• Copper;
  • Probabilistic risk assessment;
  • Acute–chronic ratio;
  • Species sensitivity distributions


Using copper as an example, we present a method for assessing chemical risks to an aquatic community using species sensitivity distributions (SSDs) for different taxonomic groups. This method fits probability models to chemical exposure and effects data to estimate the percentage of aquatic species potentially at risk and expands on existing probabilistic risk assessment methodologies. Due to a paucity of chronic toxicity data for many chemicals, this methodology typically uses an acute–chronic ratio (ACR) to estimate the chronic effects distribution from the acute effects distribution. We expanded on existing methods in two ways. First, copper SSDs were developed for different organism groups (e.g., insects, fish) that share similar sensitivities or ecological functions. Integration of exposure and effects distributions provides an estimate of which organism groups may be at risk. These results were then compared with a site-specific food web, allowing an estimation of whether key food web components are potentially at risk and whether the overall aquatic community may be at risk from the perspective of ecosystem function. Second, chronic SSDs were estimated using the relationship between copper ACRs and acute toxicity (i.e., the less acutely sensitive a species, the larger the ACR). This correction in the ACR removes concerns previously identified with use of the ACR and allows evaluation of a significantly expanded chronic data set with the same approach as that for assessing acute risks.