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A review of recent literature reveals large variations in results of bioassays, such as those proposed for solid waste testing. Sources of variation are categorized, and an estimate is made of the range in test results attributable to each source category. The age of the test organism is potentially the largest source of variation, and has effects up to five orders of magnitude on the outcome of bioassays. Other sources of variation have effects of several orders of magnitude, and nearly all sources have at least one-order-of-magnitude effect. It is concluded that bioassays cannot be used to predict the impact of contaminants introduced to an ecosystem or population, and therefore serve poorly as a tool in pollution management.
Three criteria are proposed for judging the utility of any pollution evaluation technique. These are: the ability to incorporate good scientific practice in any application; the relationship of the measured response to the natural field response; and the relationship of the measured response to important ecosystem processes. Multi-species tests in micro- and mesocosms usually satisfy these criteria better than single-species tests, and may also be used to help develop simpler tests that satisfy these criteria. The focus of impact evaluation must be on growth, reproduction, and survival, and parameters that can be related readily to them. Lastly, pollution management schemes have always recognized that human interests are the sole standard of which ecosystem effects are “harmful,” and which are not.
bioassays, median lethal concentration (LC, 50, ), toxicity tests, toxicity modeling, pollution assessment, pollution management, waste management, hazardous wastes
Ecologist, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Rockville, MD
Professor, The American University, Washington, D.C.