The value of metals bioavailability and speciation information for ecological risk assessment in arid soils



When evaluating the risk chemicals may pose to mammals and birds in ecological risk assessments (ERAs), it is common practice to conservatively assume that all (100%) of a chemical in an environmental medium is bioavailable to receptors. This assumption often leads to overestimating ecological risk and may ultimately result in costly and unnecessary risk management actions. While effects of bioavailability and speciation of metals such as arsenic (As) and lead (Pb) have been considered in human health risk assessment, these effects are rarely taken into consideration when assessing risks to mammals and birds. An ERA was conducted at the former Col-Tex refinery site in Colorado City, Texas, USA, to characterize risks to select wildlife species from exposure to chromium (Cr) and Pb found in soils. The focus on these metals was based on results of a screening-level ERA that found that Cr and Pb were posing ecological risks at the site. Soils were analyzed for total Cr and Pb, trivalent Cr (CrIII), hexavalent Cr (CrVI), organic Pb, and the bioavailability and speciation of Pb. Results for Pb and Cr indicated that >94% of the Cr was present as the less toxic and immobile Cr(lll) and that >99% of the Pb in soils was present as inorganic Pb. Lead bioaccessibility measured by in vitro testing ranged from 8% to 77.8%, depending on location of individual soil samples. Results demonstrated that Pb and Cr bioavailability and speciation information can raise soil cleanup concentrations while being protective of ecological receptors. The costs of performing the ERA were de minimus compared to the reduction in remediation costs at the site. The refined hazard estimates allowed informed decision making in the management and segregation of soils, allowing for effective risk management at the site.