Toxicity of lead to freshwater green algae

Toxicity of lead (Pb) to freshwater green algae: Development and validation of a bioavailability model and inter-species sensitivity

aquatic toxicology thumb100 Scientifically sound risk assessment and derivation of environmental quality standards for lead (Pb) in the freshwater environment are hampered by insufficient data on chronic toxicity and bioavailability to unicellular green algae. Here, we first performed comparative chronic (72-h) toxicity tests with three algal species in medium at pH 6, containing 4 mg fulvic acid (FA)/L and containing organic phosphorous (P), i.e. glycerol-2-phosphate, instead of PO43− to prevent lead-phosphate mineral precipitation. Pseudokirchneriella subcapitata was 4-fold more sensitive to Pb than Chlorella kesslerii, with Chlamydomonas reinhardtii in the middle. The influence of medium physico-chemistry was therefore investigated in detail with P. subcapitata. In synthetic test media, higher concentrations of fulvic acid or lower pH protected against toxicity of (filtered) Pb to P. subcapitata, while effects of increased Ca or Mg on Pb toxicity were less clear. When toxicity was expressed on a free Pb2+ ion activity basis, a log-linear, 260-fold increase of toxicity was observed between pH 6.0 and 7.6. Effects of fulvic acid were calculated to be much more limited (1.9-fold) and were probably even non-existent (depending on the affinity constant for Pb binding to fulvic acid that was used for calculating speciation).

A relatively simple bioavailability model, consisting of a log-linear pH effect on Pb2+ion toxicity linked to the geochemical speciation model Visual Minteq (with the default NICA-Donnan description of metal and proton binding to fulvic acid), provided relatively accurate toxicity predictions. While toxicity of (filtered) Pb varied 13.7-fold across 14 different test media (including four Pb-spiked natural waters) with widely varying physico-chemistry (72h-EC50s between 26.6 and 364 μg/L), this bioavailability model displayed mean and maximum prediction errors of only 1.4 and 2.2-fold, respectively, thus indicating the potential usefulness of this bioavailability model to reduce uncertainty in site-specific risk assessment. A model-based comparison with other species indicated that the sensitivity difference between P. subcapitata and two of the most chronically Pb-sensitive aquatic invertebrates (the crustacean Ceriodaphnia dubia and the snail Lymnaea stagnalis) is strongly pH dependent, with P. subcapitata becoming the most sensitive of the three at pH > 7.4. This indicates that inter-species differences in Pb bioavailability relationships should be accounted for in risk assessment and in the derivation of water quality criteria or environmental quality standards for Pb. The chronic toxicity data with three algae species and the bioavailability model presented here will help to provide a stronger scientific basis for evaluating ecological effects of Pb in the freshwater environment.

Full reference

De Schamphelaere KAC, Nys, C,  Janssen C, 2014. Toxicity of lead (Pb) to freshwater green algae: Development and validation of a bioavailability model and inter-species sensitivity comparison. Aquatic toxicology. 155, 348-359. DOI: 10.1016/j.aquatox.2014.07.008