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Can we determine the biological availability of sediment-bound trace elements?

March 23, 2017

It is clear from available data that the susceptibility of biological communities to trace element contamination differs among aquatic environments. One important reason is that the bioavailability of metals in sediments appears to be altered by variations in sediment geochemistry. However, methods for explaining or predicting the effect of sediment geochemistry upon metal bioavailability are poorly developed. Experimental studies demonstrate that ingestion of sediments and uptake from solution may both be important pathways of metal bioaccumulation in deposit/detritus feeding species. Relative importance between the two is geochemistry dependent. Geochemical characteristics of sediments also affect metal concentrations in the tissues of organisms collected from nature, but the specific mechanisms by which these characteristics influence metal bioavailability have not been rigorously demonstrated. Several prerequisites are necessary to better understand the processes that control metal bioavailability from sediments. 1) improved computational or analytical methods for analyzing distribution of metals among components of the sediments; 2) improved computational methods for assessing the influences of metal form in sediments on sediment-water metal exchange; and 3) a better understanding of the processes controlling bioaccumulation of metals from solution and food by metazoan species directly exposed to the sediments. Such capabilities would allow mechanistic explanations essential to the development of practical tools sought for determining sediment quality criteria for metals.

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