Ecological effects of diffuse mixed pollution are site-specific and require higher-tier risk assessment to improve site management decisions: A discussion paper.

L. Posthuma, H.J.P. Eijsackers, A.A. Koelmans, M.G. Vijver

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    Many Dutch ecosystems, whether terrestrial, aquatic or sediment-based, are diffusely polluted by mixtures of contaminants, whose concentrations often exceed regulatory Safe Values or other generic quality criteria. This situation has unclear consequences, especially when local authorities are confronted with such pollution. Water managers are frequently in doubt whether their water systems satisfy the criteria for 'Good Ecological Status' as defined in the EU's Water Framework Directive. In case of soils, soil users may wonder whether the soil is 'fit for use'. In case of nature conservation, the problem is that protected species might suffer from toxic stress. Official regulations in these cases call for appropriate action, but it is unclear whether the diffuse exposure causes adverse effects, and what the action should be. This paper proposes and discusses a site-oriented approach in the risk assessment of diffusely contaminated sites that can be used in addition to the compound-oriented policies from which the abovementioned generic quality criteria were derived. The site-oriented approach can be of help in reducing site-specific risks of diffuse contamination. Reflecting on the results of a large Dutch research effort in systems-oriented ecotoxicological effects, the conclusion is drawn that exposure and effects of diffuse pollution are site-specific in kind and magnitude, determined by the local combination of source-pathway-receptor issues, and often not clearly detectable (though often present). To assist in risk management, higher-tier methods can address various aspects, like addressing local mixture composition, bioavailability, and sensitivity of local species groups. Higher-tier risk assessment methods have as yet been developed mainly for cases of serious contamination, like for pesticide management and Risk-Based Land Management. For diffuse pollution, site-specific information can also be used to obtain site-specific exposure and impact information, while practical and ecology-based approaches can be introduced to obtain an integrated overview of the meaning of site contamination and to derive options for managing and reducing the local risks. These issues are discussed against the background of current major policy shifts, in The Netherlands and elsewhere, from a pollutant-oriented assessment to an additional ecological and site-oriented assessment. The latter is most clearly represented in the Good Ecological Status aim of the EU-Water Framework Directive. The paper assesses, integrates and discusses the results of the Dutch research effort in this policy context. © 2008.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)503-517
    JournalScience of the Total Environment
    Publication statusPublished - 2008


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