Metal bioavailability in ecological risk assessment of freshwater ecosystems: From science to environmental management
Abstract Metal contamination in freshwater ecosystems is a global issue and metal discharges to aquatic environments are monitored in order to protect aquatic life and human health. Bioavailability is an important factor determining metal toxicity. In aquatic systems, metal bioavailability depends on local water and sediment characteristics, and therefore, the risks are site-specific. Environmental quality standards (EQS) are used to manage the risks of metals in aquatic environments. In the simplest form of EQSs, total concentrations of metals in water or sediment are compared against pre-set acceptable threshold levels. Now, however, the environmental administration bodies have stated the need to incorporate metal bioavailability assessment tools into environmental regulation. Scientific advances have been made in metal bioavailability assessment, including passive samplers and computational models, such as biotic ligand models (BLM). However, the cutting-edge methods tend to be too elaborate or laborious for standard environmental monitoring. We review the commonly used metal bioavailability assessment methods and introduce the latest scientific advances that might be applied to environmental management in the future. We present the current practices in environmental management in North America, Europe and China, highlighting the good practices and the needs for improvement. Environmental management has met these new challenges with varying degrees of success: the USA has implemented site-specific environmental risk assessment for water and sediment phases, and they have already implemented metal mixture toxicity evaluation. The European Union is promoting the use of bioavailability and BLMs in ecological risk assessment (ERA), but metal mixture toxicity and sediment phase are still mostly neglected. China has regulation only for total concentrations of metals in surface water. We conclude that there is a need for (1) Advanced and up-to-date guidelines and legislation, (2) New and simple scientific methods for assessing metal bioavailability and (3) Improvement of knowledge and skills of administrators. Highlights Metal bioavailability assessment is needed in environmental management. The novel results from science should be implemented in management. The legislation and standardized methods are lacking behind in several countries. All the phases should be evaluated: surface water, sediment and pore water. A need for BLMs including metal mixtures and wider water parameter ranges. Graphical abstract [DISPLAY OMISSION]
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