Measuring bioavailability: from a scientific approach to standard methods

J. Harmsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

189 Citations (Scopus)


Biological effects are not related to the total concentration of a contaminant in the soil and soil-like materials. Organisms respond only to the fraction that is biologically available. The bioavailable fractions of contaminants are dependent on soil properties and various processes varying with time and on the behavior or the target organism. Bioavailability may be assessed in two complementary ways: (i) by chemical methods (e.g., extraction methods), which determine a defined available fraction of a well defined class of contaminants; and (ii) by biological methods, which expose organisms to soil or soil eluates to monitor effects. Although there is scientific discussion on the concept of bioavailability, the literature gives enough evidence to recognize bioavailability as a promising tool in risk assessment. A large number of methods are available. Under regulatory aspects of soil protection, a risk assessment should be based on the same common concept of determination and assessment of exposure and measuring and assessment of effects. A harmonized framework on bioavailability is necessary to promote the development and introduction of workable (international) standard methods to be used in soil and site assessment. The working group `Bioavailability¿ of ISO/TC190-Soil Quality has developed a guidance document for development and selection of methods to assess bioavailability for different target species with regard to several classes of contaminants. The way to this standard, on the boarder of science and regulation, is described in this article.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1420-1428
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • solid-phase extraction
  • soil
  • chemicals
  • sediment
  • metals

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