Comparison of metal toxic impacts between aquatic and terrestrial organisms: is the free ion concentration a sufficient descriptor?

Mikolaj Owsianiak, Ralph K. Rosenbaum, Henrik Fred Larsen, Michael Zwicky Hauschild

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference abstract in proceedingsResearch


    Characterization of metal toxic impacts in comparative risk assessment and life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) should take into account metal speciation and interactions with soil/water organic constituents, because these mechanisms control metal bioavailability and may influence their toxic properties. In a comparative context we are faced with the need to characterise thousands of substances, but the limitation of the available data calls for reliable indicators suitable for extrapolation from the limited data that is available. Indeed, free metal ion concentration has in some cases been shown to be a sufficient indicator of metal toxicity for both aquatic and terrestrial species. With the aim of deriving extrapolations to predict terrestrial toxic impacts of metals from aquatic effect data, we compared copper toxicity of aquatic organisms with that of terrestrial organisms, testing the hypothesis that the free metal ion is an appropriate “general”descriptor of metal toxicity. Results for 128 laboratory tests on Daphnia magna exposed to copper ions (Cu2+) in water show that variation of several orders of magnitude are observed between the toxicity tests. These variations may be a result of the inability of the free metal ion concentration to reflect toxicity, as the presence of protons and other cations reacting with biological binding sites has been shown to affect the toxicity of copper to D. magna. Similar patterns, albeit with smaller variations, are observed for terrestrial organisms. Up to three orders of magnitude difference occur for the extreme case of barley (Hordeum vulgare). Given the scarcity of terrestrial effect data compared to aquatic data, reliable and transparent, mechanistic-based predictions of terrestrial toxic impacts from aquatic effect data would be an important step ahead in the context of LCIA or comparative risk. Here we demonstrate that the overall ability of the free metal ion to reflect toxicity of metals for aquatic and terrestrial organisms is limited. This has consequences if potential terrestrial toxic effects are based on extrapolations from aquatic data, because the use of more sophisticated models such as the Biotic Ligand Model (BLM) would be required. However, extrapolation models based on an improved free ion approach might still be a good proxy, particularly when the comparative nature of life cycle assessment is taken into account.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationSETAC Europe 21st Annual Meeting Abstract Book
    Number of pages67
    Publication date2011
    Publication statusPublished - 2011
    EventSETAC Europe 21st Annual Meeting: Ecosystem Protection in a Sustainable World: A Challenge for Science and Regulation - Milano Convention Centre, Milano, Italy
    Duration: 15 May 201119 May 2011
    Conference number: 21


    ConferenceSETAC Europe 21st Annual Meeting
    LocationMilano Convention Centre
    Internet address


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