Potential application of ecological models in the European environmental risk assessment of chemicals: I. review of protection goals of EU directives

U. Hommen, J.M. Baveco, N.G. Galic, P.J. van den Brink

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Several European directives and regulations address the environmental risk assessment of chemicals. We used the protection of freshwater ecosystems against plant protection products, biocidal products, human and veterinary pharmaceuticals, and other chemicals and priority substances under the Water Framework Directive as examples to explore the potential of ecological effect models for a refined risk assessment. Our analysis of the directives, regulations, and related guidance documents lead us to distinguish the following 5 areas for the application of ecological models in chemical risk assessment: 1) Extrapolation of organism-level effects to the population level: The protection goals are formulated in general terms, e.g., avoiding unacceptable effects or adverse impact on the environment or the viability of exposed species. In contrast, most of the standard ecotoxicological tests provide data only on organism-level endpoints and are thus not directly linked to the protection goals which focus on populations and communities. 2) Extrapolation of effects between different exposure profiles: Especially for plant protection products, exposure profiles can be very variable and impossible to cover in toxicological tests. 3) Extrapolation of recovery processes: As a consequence of the often short-term exposures to plant protection products, the risk assessment is based on the community recovery principle. On the other hand, assessments under the other directives assume a more or less constant exposure and are based on the ecosystem threshold principle. 4) Analysis and prediction of indirect effects: Because effects on 1 or a few taxa might have consequences on other taxa that are not directly affected by the chemical, such indirect effects on communities have to be considered. 5) Prediction of bioaccumulation within food chains: All directives take the possibility of bioaccumulation, and thus secondary poisoning within the food chain, into account.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)325-337
JournalIntegrated Environmental Assessment and Management
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • Chemical risk assessment
  • Data requirements
  • Ecological model
  • Protection goals


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