Procedures are described for calculating and evaluating sediment effect concentrations (SECs) using laboratory data on the toxicity of contaminants associated with field-collected sediment to the amphipod Hyalella azteca and the midge Chironomus riparius. SECs are defined as the concentrations of individual contaminants in sediment below which toxicity is rarely observed and above which toxicity is frequently observed. The objective of the present study was to develop SECs to classify toxicity data for Great Lake sediment samples tested with Hyalella azteca and Chironomus riparius. This SEC database included samples from additional sites across the United States in order to make the database as robust as possible. Three types of SECs were calculated from these data: (1) Effect Range Low (ERL) and Effect Range Median (ERM), (2) Threshold Effect Level (TEL) and Probable Effect Level (PEL), and (3) No Effect Concentration (NEC). We were able to calculate SECs primarily for total metals, simultaneously extracted metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The ranges of concentrations in sediment were too narrow in our database to adequately evaluate SECs for butyltins, methyl mercury, polychlorinated dioxins and furans, or chlorinated pesticides. About 60 to 80% of the sediment samples in the database are correctly classified as toxic or not toxic depending on type of SEC evaluated. ERMs and ERLs are generally as reliable as paired PELs and TELs at classifying both toxic and non-toxic samples in our database. Reliability of the SECs in terms of correctly classifying sediment samples is similar between ERMs and NECs; however, ERMs minimize Type I error (false positives) relative to ERLs and minimize Type II error (false negatives) relative to NECs. Correct classification of samples can be improved by using only the most reliable individual SECs for chemicals (i.e., those with a higher percentage of correct classification). SECs calculated using sediment concentrations normalized to total organic carbon (TOC) concentrations did not improve the reliability compared to SECs calculated using dry-weight concentrations. The range of TOC concentrations in our database was relatively narrow compared to the ranges of contaminant concentrations. Therefore, normalizing dry-weight concentrations to a relatively narrow range of TOC concentrations had little influence on relative concentrations of contaminants among samples. When SECs are used to conduct a preliminary screening to predict the potential for toxicity in the absence of actual toxicity testing, a low number of SEC exceedances should be used to minimize the potential for false negatives; however, the risk of accepting higher false positives is increased.
- Great Lakes