In Situ Toxicological Monitoring: Use in Quantifying Ecological Effects of Toxic Wastes

  • W. J. Birge
  • J. A. Black
Part of the Environmental Science Research book series (ESRH, volume 38)


A series of investigations has focused on the development and evaluation of short-term tests with fish embryo-larval stages for the purpose of estimating chronic effects of aquatic contaminants on biota in freshwater systems. In principle, the procedure involves exposing fish embryos starting at or soon after fertilization and continuing through four days post-hatching. A standardized exposure period of eight days has been adopted for use with the fathead minnow. Usual test endpoints include embryonic and larval mortality and teratogenicity (i.e., abnormal development). Data are expressed as LC50s and toxicity threshold (LC10, LC1) or chronic values. The latter usually have correlated reasonably well with maximum acceptable toxicant concentrations (MATCs) and chronic values developed for selected metals and organic compounds in life-cycle studies. Cadmium and other reference toxicants have indicated good reproducibility of test results using either continuous-flow or static- renewal procedures.

In subsequent investigations, biomonitoring studies were conducted on two point-source impacted streams. Results of conventional laboratory toxicity tests, in situ toxicity tests, in-stream chemical measurements, and ecological endpoints were analyzed and compared for sensitivity and reliability for measuring or predicting ecological effects of hazardous wastes. In each case a series of receiving water stations, ranging from high to low impact, and reference sites were studied. On-site short-chronic toxicity tests with fish embryos and larvae produced results that correlated closely with independent ecological parameters. Toxicity values obtained in effluent dilution tests were predictive of measured in-stream effects. Principal reliance was placed on macroinvertebrate species richness, abundance, diversity, and functional group analysis for characterizing ecological effects. Species composition of fish populations was a useful but less sensitive measure of impact.

In developing test systems for evaluating chronic effects of point-source discharges regulated under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), effluent samples were tested simultaneously in the field and laboratory. Though optimal sample preservation and minimal stor- age time (i.e., < 24 hrs) were observed, laboratory-tested samples produced substantially less biological activity, as measured by embryopathic effects on fish and amphibians (e.g., embryonic mortality, teratogenesis). Certain waste samples that were toxic in the field produced no effect in the laboratory, clearly indicating the prospect for “false negative” results in laboratory screening.

Studies to date support the feasibility of a broad-based in situ monitoring program for evaluating ecological and health effects of hazardous substances.


Largemouth Bass Fathead Minnow Exposure Chamber Invertebrate Taxon Toxic Effluent 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. J. Birge
    • 1
  • J. A. Black
    • 1
  1. 1.Graduate Center for Toxicology and School of Biological SciencesUniversity of KentuckyLexingtonUSA

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