Joint Toxicity of Cadmium and Phenanthrene in the Freshwater Amphipod Hyalella azteca

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The joint toxicity of combined metals and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons is poorly understood and may deviate from the summed concentration responses of the individual pollutants. The freshwater amphipod Hyalella az-teca was exposed to sediment-amended Cd and phenanthrene (Phen) individually and in combination using United States Environmental Protection Agency 10-day sediment toxicity bioassays with lethality and growth end points. The lethal joint toxicity of Cd and Phen was investigated separately in 24-, 48-, and 72-hour aqueous exposures. In sediment exposures, a sublethal concentration of Phen (144 mg kg−1) in combination with Cd increased mortality across a range of Cd concentrations and decreased the 10-day LC50 for Cd from 523 mg kg−1 (461 to 588, 95% confidence interval [CI]) to 263 mg kg−1 (214 to 312, 95% CI). In contrast, sublethal concentrations of Phen had no effect on the lethal toxicity of Cd in aqueous exposures. Combined sediment-amended Cd and Phen acted independently on growth rate. Rate decreases were driven primarily by Cd. Our findings indicated that association with sediment influences the joint toxicity of Cd and Phen. Thus, mixtures of Cd and Phen may cause synergistic or independent toxicity in H. azteca depending on the end point investigated and the experimental protocol employed. As an implication of these results, the interpretation of standardized toxicity bioassays, including whole-effluent toxicity tests and single-compound toxicity tests, must be made with caution. These assessment protocols may underestimate potentially hazardous mixture effects in sediment environments. Therefore, risk assessment protocols for environments containing metal–PAH mixtures must include robust methods that can detect possible interactive effects among contaminants to optimize environmental protection.

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