Application of bioassays in toxicological hazard, risk and impact assessments of dredged sediments

C.A. Schipper, I.M.C.M. Rietjens, R.M. Burgerss, A.J. Murk

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34 Citations (Scopus)


Given the potential environmental consequences of dumped dredged harbour sediments it is vital to establish the potential risks from exposure before disposal at sea. Currently, European legislation for disposal of contaminated sediments at sea is based on chemical analysis of a limited number of well-known contaminants for which maximum acceptable concentrations, action levels (ALs), have been set. The present paper addresses the issue of the applicability of in vitro and in vivo bioassays for hazard, risk and local impact assessment of dredged polluted sediments to be disposed of at sea. It discusses how and to what extent selected bioassays can fill in the gaps left open by chemical analysis and the way in which the bioassays may contribute to the present licensing system for disposal. Three different purposes for application were distinguished: the most basic application (A) is a rapid determination of the hazard (potential toxicity) of dredged sediments which is then compared to ALs in a licensing system. As with chemical analysis on whole sediment extracts, the bioavailability of the chemicals is not taken into account. As in vitro assays with sediment extracts are not sensitive to matrix effects, a selection of specific in vitro bioassays can be suitable fast and standardized additions for the licensing system. When the outcome of (A) does not convincingly demonstrate whether the sediment is clean enough or too polluted, further bioanalysis can help the decision making process (B). More aspects of the mostly unknown complex chemical mixtures are taken into account, including the bioavailability and chronic toxicity focusing on ecologically relevant endpoints. The ecotoxicological pressure imposed by the dredged sediments can be quantified as the potentially affected fraction (PAF) based on chemical or biological analysis of levels of contaminants in sediment or biota. To validate the predicted risk, the actual impact of dumped harbour sediments on local ecosystems (C) can be determined using a dedicated set of in vitro and in vivo bioassays as well as bio-indicators selected based on the information obtained from (A) and (B) and on the characteristics of the local ecosystem. Conversely, the local sediment impact assessment (C) can direct fine-tuning of the selection of chemical and bioassay analyses and for setting safe levels in the licensing system. It is concluded that in vitro and in vivo bioassays and biological indicators are useful tools in the process of hazard, ecotoxicological risk and impact assessment of dredged harbour sediments, provided they are consciously chosen and quality criteria for assay performance are defined.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2026-2042
JournalMarine Pollution Bulletin
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • in-vitro bioassay
  • polyhalogenated aromatic-hydrocarbons
  • marine harbor sediments
  • dioxin-like compounds
  • reporter gene assays
  • north-sea
  • estrogenic activity
  • expression calux
  • dutch marine
  • lutra-lutra


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