Regional ecotoxicological hazards associated with anthropogenic enrichment of heavy metals

J.H. Spijker, G. Mol, L. Posthuma

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Regional geochemical data of heavy metals are commonly used for environmental risk assessment and management. Often these data are based on so-called total concentrations, whereas the exposure to the mobile or reactive fraction of these elements finally determines whether the exposed ecosystem is at risk and to which extent. The objective of our research was to develop a wider applicable method for quantitative hazard assessment of soil metal contamination attributable to the activity of man, based on and illustrated with data from the Netherlands. Since chemical availability (0.43 M HNO3 extractable concentrations) of Cd, Cu, Pb and Zn appeared strongly related to the estimated anthropogenic enrichment, we used these concentrations to assess the hazard of human-induced enrichment of these metals. We expressed the enrichment hazard using the toxic pressure concept, which estimates the fraction of biological species (varying between 0 and 1) potentially affected due to the level of exposure to single metals or their local mixtures. This is done using logistic (enrichment) concentration/response models parameterized with ecotoxicological effect data from toxicity tests and mixture models. Hazards varied from very low toxic pressures (lower than 0.01) to (most often) toxic pressure less than 0.05, whereby the latter relates to the so-called 95%-protection criterion used in some soil protection legislations. In rare cases, the toxic pressure exceeded the value of 0.05, to an upper limit of 0.054 for Cd. The rank order of metal enrichment hazards suggests that Cd enrichment induces the largest hazard increase. There are limited (rank order) differences in enrichment hazards between soil types. Comparing the judgement of soils based on soil screening levels and based on toxic pressure of anthropogenic Cd, Cu, Pb and Zn enrichments, the soil screening values appear to more conservative. This exemplifies the use of soil screening values as a method to note regulatory concern, but not always indicating an actual hazard or risk. When screening values are exceeded, refined hazard insights can be obtained, as illustrated in this paper. This provides a more refined insight in the ecotoxic implications of human-induced metal enrichments in soils, as refined basis for risk management decisions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)409-426
JournalEnvironmental Geochemistry and Health
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • assemblages
  • toxicity
  • account


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