• Copper;
  • Water quality criteria;
  • Olfactory impairment;
  • Pacific salmon


Copper (Cu) can impair olfaction in juvenile Pacific salmon (as well as other fishes), thus potentially inhibiting the ability of juveniles to avoid predators or to find food. Because Cu is commonly elevated in stormwater runoff in urban environments, storm events may result in elevated Cu concentrations in salmon-bearing streams. Accordingly, there is concern that existing Cu criteria, which were not derived using data for olfactory-related endpoints, may not be adequately protective of juvenile salmon. However, a modification of the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) biotic ligand model (BLM) for deriving site-specific Cu criteria was recently proposed, which accounted for the sensitivity of olfactory endpoints. The modification was based on olfactory inhibition in juvenile coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) exposed to Cu in various combinations of pH, hardness, alkalinity, and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations. We used that olfactory-based BLM to derive 20% inhibition concentrations (IC20) values for Cu for 133 stream locations in the western United States. The olfactory BLM-based IC20 values were compared to the existing hardness-based Cu criteria and the USEPA's BLM-based Cu criteria for these representative natural waters of the western United States. Of the 133 sampling locations, mean hardness-dependent acute and chronic Cu criteria were below the mean olfactory-based BLM IC20 value in 122 (92%) and 129 (97%) of the waters, respectively (i.e., <20% olfactory impairment would have been predicted at the mean hardness-based Cu criteria concentrations). Waters characterized by a combination of high hardness and very low DOC were most likely to have hardness-based Cu criteria that were higher than the olfactory-based BLM IC20 values, because DOC strongly influences Cu bioavailability in the BLM. In all waters, the USEPA's current BLM-based criteria were below the mean olfactory-based BLM IC20 values, indicating that the USEPA's BLM-based criteria are protective of olfactory impairment in juvenile salmon. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2011;7:336–347. © 2011 SETAC