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Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 2005 Nov;49(4):511-9. Epub 2005 Sep 30.

Effects of pulsed contaminant exposures on early life stages of the fathead minnow.

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Tetra Tech Inc., 400 Red Brook Boulevard, Suite 200, Owings Mills, MD 21117, USA.


Water quality standards for protecting aquatic life are based primarily on laboratory tests that use constant exposure concentrations. Typical effluent and nonpoint source exposure concentrations fluctuate in frequency, magnitude, and duration, which may result in different toxicological impacts. Current information indicates that pulsed or fluctuating exposures are generally more toxic than continuous exposures, when averaged over the applicable time period. However, few studies have evaluated chronic or sublethal effects of pulsed exposures, particularly those applicable to wastewater discharge situations. To address this issue, several pulsed exposure toxicity tests were conducted using modified fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas) early life stage (7 d) tests and several chemicals representative of those commonly encountered in wastewater effluents including copper, nitric acid, cadmium, and sodium chloride. Results suggest that survival and/or growth effects depend on the combination of frequency, magnitude, and duration, as well as the type of chemical. Nitric acid and sodium chloride pulsed treatments did not exhibit growth effects independent of survival effects, but both metals did elicit only growth effects in some treatments. Growth effects were related to pulse frequency and duration for copper and pulse duration and magnitude for cadmium. A 12-h exposure of approximately five times the 7-d continuous exposure IC(25) concentration of either metal quickly elicited mortality responses. Prolonged (>24 h) lag effects on survival were not observed in any of the experiments, regardless of the contaminant tested. Our results suggest that current water quality criteria may be underprotective if based on an average concentration over a 2-4 d exposure. For these contaminants, a short-term increase in concentration may elicit effects even though the average concentration is within nontoxic ranges for the organism.

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