Advancements in effect-based surface water quality assessment

M. L. De Baat*, R. Van der Oost, G. H. Van der Lee, N. Wieringa, T. Hamers, P. F.M. Verdonschot, P. De Voogt, M. H.S. Kraak

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Legally-prescribed chemical monitoring is unfit for determining the pollution status of surface waters, and there is a need for improved assessment methods that consider the aggregated risk of all bioavailable micropollutants present in the aquatic environment. Therefore, the present study aimed to advance effect-based water quality assessment by implementing methodological improvements and to gain insight into contamination source-specific bioanalytical responses. Passive sampling of non-polar and polar organic compounds and metals was applied at 14 surface water locations that were characterized by two major anthropogenic contamination sources, agriculture and wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) effluent, as well as reference locations with a low expected impact from micropollutants. Departing from the experience gained in previous studies, a battery of 20 in vivo and in vitro bioassays was composed and subsequently exposed to the passive sampler extracts. Next, the bioanalytical responses were divided by their respective effect-based trigger values to obtain effect-based risk quotients, which were summed per location. These cumulative ecotoxicological risks were lowest for reference locations (4.3–10.9), followed by agriculture locations (11.3–27.2) and the highest for WWTP locations (12.8–47.7), and were mainly driven by polar organic contaminants. The bioanalytical assessment of the joint risks of metals and (non-)polar organic compounds resulted in the successful identification of pollution source-specific ecotoxicological risk profiles: none of the bioassays were significantly associated with reference locations nor with multiple location types, while horticulture locations were significantly characterized by anti-AR and anti-PR activity and cytotoxicity, and WWTP sites by ERα activity and toxicity in the in vivo bioassays. It is concluded that the presently employed advanced effect-based methods can readily be applied in surface water quality assessment and that the integration of chemical- and effect-based monitoring approaches will foster future-proof water quality assessment strategies on the road to a non-toxic environment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116017
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalWater Research
Early online date18 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2020


  • Agriculture
  • Bioassay battery
  • Micropollutants
  • Passive sampling
  • Wastewater
  • Water quality monitoring


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