A variety of methods have been used by numerous investigators attempting to link tissue concentrations with observed adverse biological effects. This paper is the first to evaluate in a systematic way different approaches for deriving protective (i.e., unlikely to have adverse effects) tissue residue-effect concentrations in fish using the same datasets. Guidelines for screening papers and a set of decision rules were formulated to provide guidance on selecting studies and obtaining data in a consistent manner. Paired no-effect (NER) and low-effect (LER) whole-body residue concentrations in fish were identified for mercury and DDT from the published literature. Four analytical approaches of increasing complexity were evaluated for deriving protective tissue residues. The four methods were: Simple ranking, empirical percentile, tissue threshold-effect level (t-TEL), and cumulative distribution function (CDF). The CDF approach did not yield reasonable tissue residue thresholds based on comparisons to synoptic control concentrations. Of the four methods evaluated, the t-TEL approach best represented the underlying data. A whole-body mercury t-TEL of 0.2 mg/kg wet weight, based largely on sublethal endpoints (growth, reproduction, development, behavior), was calculated to be protective of juvenile and adult fish. For DDT, protective whole-body concentrations of 0.6 mg/kg wet weight in juvenile and adult fish, and 0.7 mg/kg wet weight for early life-stage fish were calculated. However, these DDT concentrations are considered provisional for reasons discussed in this paper (e.g., paucity of sublethal studies).
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