Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology

Volume 162 of the series Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology pp 1-41

The Internal Critical Level Concept of Nonspecific Toxicity

  • Yupadee ChaisuksantAffiliated withFaculty of Science and Technology, Prince of Songkla University
  • , Qiming YuAffiliated withFaculty of Environmental Sciences, Griffith University
  • , Des W. ConnellAffiliated withFaculty of Environmental Sciences, Griffith University

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Toxicity of chemicals to organisms may be classified into two basic types: specific (or reactive or chemical) and nonspecific (or nonreactive or physical) (37;137). Specific toxicity results from a specific chemical reaction mechanism such as a reaction with an enzyme or the inhibition of a metabolic pathway in an organism (13). Toxicants causing this type of toxicity include heavy metal ions, organometallic compounds, and other chemically reactive agents (37). Nonspecific toxicity, often described as narcosis, refers to any reversible decrease in the physiological functions of an organism. This mode of toxic action is directly associated with the quantity, rather than the chemical structure, of the toxicants involved (13;137). Nonspecific toxicity has been found to be the predominant mode of toxic action of industrial organic chemicals acting on aquatic organisms, especially fish. A variety of organic compounds act as nonspecific toxicants to aquatic organisms, including aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons, chlorinated hydrocarbons, alcohols, ethers, weak acids and bases, and some aliphatic nitrocompounds (186). These compounds have also been described as depressants because of their use as hypnotics and general anaesthetics in higher organisms and humans (4). In small doses they induce sleep and in larger doses a lack of sensation-awareness in the brain to any change in the body (4;43).