• Bioaccumulation;
  • Bioconcentration;
  • Biomagnification;
  • environmental quality standards;
  • HCB


Hexachlorobenzene (HCB) is a priority hazardous substance within the Water Framework Directive (WFD). For aquatic systems, the European Commission has derived quality standards (QS) for HCB in biota. However, in some countries a preference may exist for QS based on water concentrations. The conversion of biota QS into water QS can be done by dividing the quality standard for biota by a reliable bioaccumulation factor (BAF) or by the product of the bioconcentration factor (BCF) and the biomagnification factor (BMF) (BCF × BMF). An extensive literature review of HCB bioaccumulation was performed, and data on bioaccumulation, biomagnification and bioconcentration, both from the field and the laboratory, were assessed for their usefulness to recalculate biota standards into water standards. The evaluation resulted in 10 reliable values for field BAFs, with a geometric mean of 221 000 L/kg (5% lipid-normalized). Bioaccumulation factor measurements show a high variation of more than 1 order of magnitude. At lower trophic levels (algae, small zooplankton), accumulation of HCB already exceeds expected accumulation through equilibrium partitioning by far. This affects BAFs at higher trophic levels as well. Moreover, observed BAF values for HCB in fish cannot be easily explained from the age of the fish, but there is a significant increase with trophic level. Reliable values for laboratory BCFs for fish were retrieved from literature, partly with water-based exposure and partly with dietary exposure. The 5% lipid-normalized BCF of all these data is 12 800 L/kg. Regarding biomagnification, a number of reliable BMF and trophic magnification factor values, mostly determined in the field, were retrieved. From these data, an overall BMF of 3 per trophic level can be deduced. When comparing BCF values for fish multiplied by the BMF (12 800 × 3 = 38 400 L/kg) to the observed BAF values for fish (geometric mean 238 000 L/kg), there appears to be a large gap. Thus, the uncertainties surrounding values for bioaccumulation of HCB are high. Although the confidence in laboratory BCFs is higher, these data seem to be not relevant for small fish in the field. This makes it difficult to obtain a reliable BAF or BCF × BMF value to recalculate biota standards into water standards. On the other hand, biota concentrations in the field show a high variability that also hampers comparison with a fixed limit such as a quality standard. Thus, compliance checking using biota in the field means that a relatively large amount of fish will have to be used to obtain a reliable estimate. The following “tiered approach” is suggested: 1) calculate a water quality standard, using the BAF value that is most relevant for the trophic level to be protected, and 2) if this standard is exceeded in the field, sample representative biota in the field and compare concentrations of HCB in biota and water with their respective standards in a weight of evidence approach for compliance checking. In this way, unnecessary biota sampling can be avoided for reasons of efficiency and animal welfare. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2013; 9: 87–97. © 2012 SETAC