Mixture toxicity studies with herbicides have focused on a few priority components that are most likely to cause environmental impacts, and experimental mixtures were often designed as equipotent mixtures; however, real-world mixtures are made up of chemicals with different modes of toxic action at arbitrary concentration ratios. The toxicological significance of environmentally realistic mixtures has only been scarcely studied. Few studies have simultaneously compared the mixture effect of water samples with designed reference mixtures comprised of the ratios of analytically detected concentrations in toxicity tests. In the present study, the authors address the effect of herbicides and other chemicals on inhibition of photosynthesis and algal growth rate. The authors tested water samples including secondary treated wastewater effluent, recycled water, drinking water, and storm water in the combined algae assay. The detected chemicals were mixed in the concentration ratios detected, and the biological effects of the water samples were compared with the designed mixtures of individual detected chemicals to quantify the fraction of effect caused by unknown chemicals. The results showed that herbicides dominated the algal toxicity in these environmentally realistic mixtures, and the contribution by the non-herbicides was negligible. A 2-stage model, which used concentration addition within the groups of herbicides and non-herbicides followed by the model of independent action to predict the mixture effect of the two groups, could predict the experimental mixture toxicity effectively, but the concentration addition model for herbicides was robust and sufficient for complex mixtures. Therefore, the authors used the bioanalytical equivalency concept to derive effect-based trigger values for algal toxicity for monitoring water quality in recycled and surface water. All water samples tested would be compliant with the proposed trigger values associated with the appropriate guidelines. Environ Toxicol Chem 2014;33:1427–1436. © 2014 SETAC
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