Background zinc concentrations in soil affect the zinc sensitivity of soil microbial processes—a rationale for a metalloregion approach to risk assessments



Soil microbial processes are particularly sensitive to Zn, but great difficulty exists in deriving soil standards based on laboratory toxicity tests. Zinc toxicity data for soil microbial processes were collated from the literature, and their variability with soil properties was assessed. Data were screened for quality and reliability, and analysis was based on the highest metal dose at which no adverse effect was found (HNOAED). The HNOAED values were expressed on a pore-water basis and were found to be positively related to background concentrations of Zn in soil, also expressed on a pore-water basis. This suggests that soil microorganisms acclimate to indigenous concentrations of Zn in soil pore water, and this acclimation affects the subsequent response to Zn added as a pollutant. Thus, regions having low background Zn concentrations in soil pore water will be much more sensitive to Zn pollution than others having high background concentrations. A method to account for effects of background Zn on assessments of Zn toxicity is suggested where metalloregions are defined having common sets of abiotic and biotic factors that affect the toxicity of Zn. This approach could markedly improve regional or continental risk assessments for metals in the environment.