Hazard identification of contaminated sites—ranking potential toxicity of organic sediment extracts in crustacean and fish

  • Jenny Karlsson
  • Henrik Sundberg
  • Gun Åkerman
  • Kerstin Grunder
  • Britta Eklund
  • Magnus Breitholtz


Background, aim, and scope

It is well known that contaminated sediments represent a potential long-term source of pollutants to the aquatic environment. To protect human and ecosystem health, it is becoming common to remediate contaminated sites. However, the great cost associated with, e.g., dredging in combination with the large numbers of contaminated sites makes it crucial to pinpoint those sites that are in greatest need of remediation. In most European countries, this prioritization process has almost exclusively been based on chemical analyses of known substances; only seldom toxicity data has been considered. The main objective of the current study was therefore to develop a tool for hazard identification of sediment by ranking potential toxicity of organic sediment extracts in a crustacean and a fish. A secondary objective was to investigate the difference in potential toxicity between compounds with different polarities.

Materials and methods

Early life stages of the crustacean Nitocra spinipes and the fish Oncorhynchus mykiss, which represent organisms from different trophic levels (primary and secondary consumer) and with different routes of exposure (i.e., ingestion through food, diffusive uptake, and maternal transfer), were exposed to hexane and acetone fractions (semi-polar compounds) of sediment from five locations, ranging from heavily to low contaminated. Preliminary tests showed that the extracts were non-bioavailable to the crustacean when exposed via water, and the extracts were therefore loaded on silica gel. Rainbow trout embryos were exposed using nano-injection technique.

Results and discussion

Clear concentration–response relationships of both mortality and larval development were observed in all tests with N. spinipes. Also for rainbow trout, the observed effects (e.g., abnormality, hemorrhage, asymmetric yolk sac) followed a dose-related pattern. Interestingly, our results indicate that some of the locations contained toxic semi-polar compounds, which are normally not considered in risk assessment of sediment since they are focused on compounds isolated in the hexane fraction.


The ranking of the five sediments followed the expected pattern of potential toxicity in both organisms, i.e., sediments with known pollution history caused major effects while reference sediments caused minor effects in the two test systems. Silica gel turned out to be an excellent carrier for exposure of N. spinipes to very hydrophobic and otherwise non-bioavailable sediment extracts.

Recommendations and perspectives

Since both test systems demonstrated that a substantial part of the potential toxicity was caused by semi-polar compounds in the acetone fractions, this study enlightens our poor understanding of which compounds are causing adverse effects in environmental samples. Therefore, by investigating potential toxicity (i.e., hazard identification) as a first screening step in prioritizing processes, these implications could be avoided. For proper sediment risk assessment, we however recommend whole sediment toxicity tests to be used for selected sites at following tiers.


Crustacea Fish PAH PCB PCDD/Fs Sediment extract Sediment toxicity Semi-polar Sublethal 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jenny Karlsson
    • 1
  • Henrik Sundberg
    • 1
  • Gun Åkerman
    • 1
  • Kerstin Grunder
    • 1
  • Britta Eklund
    • 1
  • Magnus Breitholtz
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Applied Environmental Science (ITM)Stockholm UniversityStockholmSweden

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