John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

A statistical evaluation of the safety factor and species sensitivity distribution approaches to deriving environmental quality guidelines

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The Species Sensitivity Distribution (SSD) distribution approach to estimating Water Quality Guidelines (WQGs) is the preferred method in all jurisdictions reviewed (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, OECD members, South Africa, United States) and is one of the recommended methods for European Commission members for 33 priority and priority hazardous substances. In the event that jurisdiction‐specific criteria for data quality, quantity and taxonomic representation are not met, all of these jurisdictions endorse the use of additional Safety Factors (SFs) applied to either the SSD‐based WQG or, the lowest suitable toxicity test endpoint. In Canada, the British Columbia Ministry of Environment endorses this latter approach as the preferred approach in the belief that so‐derived WQGs are more protective than SSD‐based WQGs. The level of protection afforded by the latter SF approach was evaluated by statistically sampling minima from random samples of the following distributions: normal, Gumbel, logistic, and Weibull, using a range of Coefficients of Variation (CVs) and applying the SFs of 2 or 10 used in British Columbia. The simulations indicate that the Potentially Affected Fraction of Species (PAF) can be as high as 20%, or, approach 0%. The PAF varies with sample size and CV. Because CVs can vary systematically with mode of toxic action, the PAF using SF‐based WQGs can also vary systematically with analyte class. The varying levels of protection afforded by SF‐based WQGs are generally inconsistent with the common water quality management goal that allows for a small degree of change under long‐term exposure. The findings suggest that further efforts be made to develop high‐quality WQGs that support informed decision‐making and are consistent with the environmental management goal instead of using SFs in the hope of achieving an acceptable but unknown, degree of environmental protection. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved

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