John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Critical perspectives on mercury toxicity reference values for protection of fish

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Environmental management decisions at mercury‐contaminated sediment sites are predicated on the understanding of risks to various receptors, including fish. Toxicity reference values (TRVs) for interpreting risks to fish have been developed to assess mercury concentrations in fish or fish prey. These TRVs were systematically evaluated based on several lines of evidence. First, their conceptual basis and specific derivation were evaluated, including a close review of underlying toxicity studies. Second, case studies were reviewed to investigate whether TRVs are predictive of effects on fish populations in the field. Third, TRVs were compared with available information regarding preindustrial and present‐day background concentrations of mercury in fish. The findings show that existing TRVs are highly uncertain, because they were developed using limited data from studies not designed for TRV derivation. Although field studies also entail uncertainty, several case studies indicate no evidence of adverse effects despite mercury exposures that exceed the available TRVs. Some TRVs also fall within the range of background mercury concentrations in predatory or prey fish. Lack of information on the selenium status of mercury‐exposed fish is a critical confounding factor, and the form of methylmercury used in toxicity testing may also contribute to differences between TRV‐based predictions and field observations of mercury effects on fish. On balance, the available information indicates that several of the TRVs reviewed are lower than necessary to protect fish populations. The 20% effect concentration from a previously published dose–response analysis appears closer to an effect threshold, based on available laboratory data. Additional research is needed to provide a stronger basis to establish dose–response relationships for mercury effects on fish. Environ Toxicol Chem 2016;35:529–549. © 2016 SETAC

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