Derivation of a benchmark for freshwater ionic strength



Because increased ionic strength has caused deleterious ecological changes in freshwater streams, thresholds for effects are needed to inform resource-management decisions. In particular, effluents from surface coal mining raise the ionic strength of receiving streams. The authors developed an aquatic life benchmark for specific conductance as a measure of ionic strength that is expected to prevent the local extirpation of 95% of species from neutral to alkaline waters containing a mixture of dissolved ions in which the mass of SOmath image + HCOmath image≥ Cl. Extirpation concentrations of specific conductance were estimated from the presence and absence of benthic invertebrate genera from 2,210 stream samples in West Virginia. The extirpation concentration is the 95th percentile of the distribution of the probability of occurrence of a genus with respect to specific conductance. In a region with a background of 116 µS/cm, the 5th percentile of the species sensitivity distribution of extirpation concentrations for 163 genera is 300 µS/cm. Because the benchmark is not protective of all genera and protects against extirpation rather than reduction in abundance, this level may not fully protect sensitive species or higher-quality, exceptional waters. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2013;32:263–271. © 2012 SETAC