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Toxicity of a pah photooxidation product to the bacteria Photobacterium phosphoreum and the duckweed Lemna gibba: Effects of phenanthrene and its primary photoproduct, phenanthrenequinone



Phenanthrene (PHE) undergoes a significant increase in toxicity after exposure to simulated or natural sunlight in aqueous media, coincident with the appearance of PHE photoproducts. To investigate whether the primary photoproduct of PHE, 9,10-phenanthrenequinone (PHEQ), contributes to the increased hazards of solutions containing photomodified PHE, toxicity assays were conducted using the marine bacteria Photobacterium phosphoreum and the aquatic plant Lemna gibba (duckweed). Photo-bacterium phosphoreum was exposed to PHE, PHEQ, a photomodified PHE mixture containing known amounts of PHE and PHEQ (pmPHE), and a mixture mimicking the amounts of PHE and PHEQ in the pmPHE mixture. The bacteria were found to be equally sensitive to PHE in simulated solar radiation (SSR, a light source with a visible light : UVA : UVB ratio similar to that of sunlight) or darkness, with an EC50 of 0.53 mg/L. In both darkness or SSR, solutions containing PHEQ (with or without PHE) all exhibited an EC50 of 0.06 to 0.10 mg/L based on PHEQ concentrations, indicating that PHEQ was the primary active component of the pmPHE mixture. Lemna gibba was tested in SSR and visible light with PHE, PHEQ, and the pmPHE mixture. The calculated EC50 for PHE was 3.5 mg/L in SSR and 10.8 mg/L in visible light, showing that the presence of UV radiation in the SSR source increased the phytotoxicity of PHE. Strikingly, PHEQ was much more toxic to L. gibba than PHE in a light-independent manner (an EC50 of 0.53 and 0.57 mg/L PHEQ in dark and SSR, respectively). Thus, for both P. phosphoreum and L. gibba the major photooxidation product of PHE in SSR, PHEQ, is the more toxic of the two chemicals.