Probabilistic approaches to accounting for data variability in the practical application of bioavailability in predicting aquatic risks from metals



The biotic ligand model (BLM) theoretically enables the derivation of environmental quality standards that are based on true bioavailable fractions of metals. Several physicochemical variables (especially pH, major cations, dissolved organic carbon, and dissolved metal concentrations) must, however, be assigned to run the BLM, but they are highly variable in time and space in natural systems. This article describes probabilistic approaches for integrating such variability during the derivation of risk indexes. To describe each variable using a probability density function (PDF), several methods were combined to 1) treat censored data (i.e., data below the limit of detection), 2) incorporate the uncertainty of the solid-to-liquid partitioning of metals, and 3) detect outliers. From a probabilistic perspective, 2 alternative approaches that are based on log-normal and Γ distributions were tested to estimate the probability of the predicted environmental concentration (PEC) exceeding the predicted non-effect concentration (PNEC), i.e., math formula. The probabilistic approach was tested on 4 real-case studies based on Cu-related data collected from stations on the Loire and Moselle rivers. The approach described in this article is based on BLM tools that are freely available for end-users (i.e., the Bio-Met software) and on accessible statistical data treatments. This approach could be used by stakeholders who are involved in risk assessments of metals for improving site-specific studies. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2013;9:508–516. © 2013 SETAC