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Predicting toxic effects of copper on aquatic biota in mineralized areas by using the Biotic Ligand Model

March 26, 2006

The chemical speciation of metals influences their biological effects. The Biotic Ligand Model (BLM) is a computational approach to predict chemical speciation and acute toxicological effects of metals on aquatic biota. Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency incorporated the BLM into their regulatory water-quality criteria for copper. Results from three different laboratory copper toxicity tests were compared with BLM predictions for simulated test-waters. This was done to evaluate the ability of the BLM to accurately predict the effects of hardness and concentrations of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and iron on aquatic toxicity. In addition, we evaluated whether the BLM and the three toxicity tests provide consistent results. Comparison of BLM predictions with two types of Ceriodaphnia dubia toxicity tests shows that there is fairly good agreement between predicted LC50 values computed by the BLM and LC50 values determined from the two toxicity tests. Specifically, the effect of increasing calcium concentration (and hardness) on copper toxicity appears to be minimal. Also, there is fairly good agreement between the BLM and the two toxicity tests for test solutions containing elevated DOC, for which the LC50 is 3-to-5 times greater (less toxic) than the LC50 for the lower-DOC test water. This illustrates the protective effects of DOC on copper toxicity and demonstrates the ability of the BLM to predict these protective effects. In contrast, for test solutions with added iron there is a decrease in LC50 values (increase in toxicity) in results from the two C. dubia toxicity tests, and the agreement between BLM LC50 predictions and results from these toxicity tests is poor. The inability of the BLM to account for competitive iron binding to DOC or DOC fractionation may be a significant shortcoming of the BLM for predicting site- specific water-quality criteria in streams affected by iron-rich acidic drainage in mined and mineralized areas.