A draft update of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ambient water quality criteria (AWQC) for ammonia substantially lowers the ammonia AWQC, primarily due to the inclusion of toxicity data for freshwater mussels. However, most of the mussel data used in the updated AWQC were generated from water-only exposures and limited information is available on the potential influence of the presence of a substrate on the response of mussels in laboratory toxicity tests. Our recent study demonstrated that the acute sensitivity of mussels to ammonia was not influenced by the presence of substrate in 4-d laboratory toxicity tests. The objective of the current study was to determine the sensitivity of mussels to ammonia in chronic 28-d water exposures with the sediment present (sediment treatment) or absent (water-only treatment). The chronic toxicity test was conducted starting with two-month-old juvenile mussels (fatmucket, Lampsilis siliquoidea) in a flow-through diluter system, which maintained consistent pH (≈8.3) and six concentrations of total ammonia nitrogen (N) in overlying water and in sediment pore water. The chronic value (ChV, geometric mean of the no-observed-effect concentration and the lowest-observed-effect concentration) was 0.36 mg N/L for survival or biomass in the water-only treatment, and was 0.66 mg N/L for survival and 0.20 mg N/L for biomass in the sediment treatment. The 20% effect concentration (EC20) for survival was 0.63 mg N/L in the water-only treatment and was 0.86 mg N/L in the sediment treatment (with overlapping 95% confidence intervals; no EC20 for biomass was estimated because the data did not meet the conditions for any logistic regression analysis). The similar ChVs or EC20s between the water-only treatment and the sediment treatment indicate that the presence of sediment did not substantially influence the sensitivity of juvenile mussels to ammonia in the 28-d chronic laboratory water exposures. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2011;30:2270–2276. © 2011 SETAC
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