An earthworm avoidance test has potential advantages for use in evaluation of hazardous wastes sites. Because organisms often exhibit behavioral responses at lower levels of stress than those that acute toxicity tests are able to detect, avoidance tests could provide increased sensitivity to hazardous chemicals. Avoidance is an ecologically relevant endpoint that neither acute nor sublethal tests measure. Avoidance can potentially indicate sublethal stress in a short period of time, testing is easily done in a soil matrix, and an avoidance test has the potential for specialized applications for soil testing. “Dual-control” test data established that, in absence of a toxicant, worms did not congregate, but instead distributed themselves fairly randomly with respect to the two sides of the test chambers, that is, they did not display behavior that might be mistaken for avoidance. In tests with artificial soil spiked with reference toxicants and hazardous site soils, worms avoided soils containing various toxic chemicals. Avoidance behavior proved in most cases be a more sensitive indicator of chemical contamination than acute tests. Determination of avoidance was possible in 1 to 2 d, much less than the current duration of acute and sublethal earthworm tests.
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