Effects of dilution on the exposure in sediment toxicity tests: Buffering of freely dissolved concentrations and changes in mixture composition

Thomas L. ter Laak, Philipp Mayer, Hans J.C. Klamer, Joop L.M. Hermens

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Some sediment toxicity tests, such as the Microtoxg test, are conducted by diluting either contaminated sediment or an aqueous phase with clean water. The present study aims to clarify how the dilution procedure affects the exposure of organisms. It is shown that freely dissolved concentrations of hydrophobic compounds are buffered by desorption from the sediment matrix when sediment is diluted with water. The buffering depends on the properties of the sediment matrix and contaminant. Consequently. the composition of a contaminant mixture changes with dilution, and the exposure in a sediment dilution toxicity test is poorly defined. This questions the application and subsequent assessments of such tests. Additionally, the often-observed higher toxicity in sediment dilution tests relative to elutriate dilution tests is not sufficient to claim direct contact exposure, because the enhanced sensitivity in sediment dilution tests also can be explained by buffering from the sediment matrix. In applying these tests, one should be aware of the fundamental differences between the sediment dilution strategy and the dilution of an aqueous phase and of the consequences it has for the outcome of the test.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Issue number10
Pages (from-to)2187-2191
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Sediment dilution
  • Freely dissolved concentrations
  • Hydrophobic organic contaminants
  • Microtox (R) solidphase test
  • Direct contact exposure

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