Sediment quality guidelines (SQGs) for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) have been derived from a variety of laboratory, field, and theoretical foundations. They include the screening level concentration, effects ranges—low and—median, equilibrium partitioning concentrations, apparent effects threshold, ΣPAH model, and threshold and probable effects levels. The resolution of controversial differences among the PAH SQGs lies in an understanding of the effects of mixtures. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons virtually always occur in field-collected sediment as a complex mixture of covarying compounds. When expressed as a mixture concentration, that is, total PAH (TPAH), the guidelines form three clusters that were intended in their original derivations to represent threshold (TEC = 290 μg/g organic carbon [OC]), median (MEC = 1,800 μg/g OC), and extreme (EEC = 10,000 μg/g OC) effects concentrations. The TEC/MEC/EEC consensus guidelines provide a unifying synthesis of other SQGs, reflect causal rather than correlative effects, account for mixtures, and predict sediment toxicity and benthic community perturbations at sites of PAH contamination. The TEC offers the most useful SQG because PAH mixtures are unlikely to cause adverse effects on benthic ecosystems below the TEC.
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