SYMPOSIA PAPER Published: 01 January 1993

Experimental Versus Empirical Approaches to Setting Water Quality Objectives


There are deep-seated cultural differences between the ways that fisheries scientists and wildlife scientists undertake research on toxic chemicals in the Great Lakes. Generally, fisheries scientists are skeptical about evidence that organochlorine compounds have caused actual effects on Great Lakes fisheries resources and make statements, to protect these resources, about potential effects based on laboratory, experimentally-derived objectives and concentrations in the ambient environment. Wildlife scientists start with the field observation of effects, such as congenital abnormalities or embryo mortality, and use epidemiological criteria and forensic techniques to make statements about actual effects and the substance(s) that are causing them. Objectives based on dose-response relationships derived from laboratory experimental studies and from field-based correlations should coincide. Where they seriously conflict, as in the derivation of objectives for many organochlorine compounds, the more stringent field-based objectives should prevail, to restore the Great Lakes ecosystem.

Author Information

Gilbertson, M
Great Lakes Water Quality Board, International Joint Commission, Windsor, Ontario, Canada
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Developed by Committee: E47
Pages: 409–421
DOI: 10.1520/STP13170S
ISBN-EB: 978-0-8031-5257-1
ISBN-13: 978-0-8031-1485-2