Nationwide screening of surface water toxicity to algae

M.L. de Baat*, D.A. Bas, S.A.M. van Beusekom, S.T.J. Droge, F. van der Meer, M. de Vries, P.F.M. Verdonschot, M.H.S. Kraak

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


According to the European Water Framework Directive (WFD), chemical water quality is assessed by monitoring 45 priority substances. However, observed toxic effects can often not be attributed to these priority substances, and therefore there is an urgent need for an effect-based monitoring strategy that employs bioassays to identify environmental risk. Algal photosynthesis is a sensitive process that can be applied to identify the presence of hazardous herbicides in surface water. Therefore, the aim of this study was to employ an algal photosynthesis bioassay to assess surface water toxicity to algae and to identify the compounds causing the observed effects. To this purpose, Raphidocelis subcapitata was exposed to surface water samples and after 4.5 h photosynthetic efficiency was determined using PAM fluorometry. In this rapid high throughput bioassay, algal photosynthesis was affected by surface water from only one of 39 locations. Single compounds toxicity confirmation elucidated that the observed effect could be solely attributed to the herbicide linuron, which occurred at 110 times the EQS concentration and which is not included in the WFD priority substances list. In conclusion, applying the algal photosynthesis bioassay enables more efficient and effective assessment of toxicity to primary producers because it: (i) identifies the presence of herbicides that would be overlooked by routine chemical WFD monitoring, and (ii) avoids redundant chemical analyses by focusing only on (non-)target screening in samples with demonstrated effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)780-787
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2018


  • Algal toxicity
  • Herbicide risk
  • Nationwide screening
  • Pulse amplitude modulation fluorometry
  • Surface water


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