First generation sediment bioassays measure acute lethality in very sensitive aquatic animals. These tests, however, do not account for the many chemicals of toxicological concern which are tightly bound to sediments and accumulated very slowly. Most benthic organisms, therefore, experience sediment exposures resulting in chronic, low level tissue contamination. Animals exposed in this manner rarely die but often exhibit subtle sublethal responses. A second generation of sediment bioassays involving chronic exposures and biologically important sublethal endpoints (e.g. growth and reproduction) in phylogenetically diverse groups of benthic organisms is urgently needed. Developing these tests in a technically sound fashion represents a major challenge to the scientific community. This paper describes a framework for developing chronic sublethal sediment bioassays and a specific example of its application.
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