Biotests and biosensors in ecotoxicological risk assessment of field soils polluted with zinc, lead, and cadmium



The combined chemical and ecotoxicological hazard evaluations study was conducted on 60 smelter-influenced soils containing 1 to 13, 50 to 653, and 100 to 1,198 mg/kg of Cd, Pb, and Zn, respectively. For these soils (liquid-to-soil ratio = 10), water extractability of Zn, Cd, and Pb was less than 0.19% (median values). Acetic acid (0.11 M) extracted 23, 9.7, and 0.7% of Cd, Zn, and Pb, respectively. Although heavy metal concentrations in the studied soils were high, the toxic effects of water extracts were observed only in few samples and in few biotests (algae Selenastrum capricornutum and metal detector assay). For most of the aquatic test organisms (e.g., crustaceans, photobacteria), the bioavailable concentrations of metals in soil-water extracts were either subtoxic, or the adverse effects were compensated by soil nutrients, etc. However, analysis of the soils with recombinant Cd sensor Bacillus subtilis (pTOO24) showed that about 65% of these apparently subtoxic samples contained bioavailable Cd when analyzed in the suspension assay (detection limit 1.5 mg Cd/kg soil), indicating the desorption of Cd induced by direct contact of bacteria with soil particles. The median bioavailable fraction of Cd (1%) was 23-fold lower than the fraction extracted by acetic acid. The Pb-Cd sensor Staphylococcus aureus (pT0024) detected bioavailable Pb only in the suspensions of five of the most lead-polluted soils (>417 mg Pb/kg): the median bioavailability of Pb was 0.42%. Consequently, the hazard assessment relying on total metal levels in soils should be revised by critical comparison with data obtained from bioassays. Development and use of biosensors (excellent tools for mechanistic studies and signaling hazard already at subtoxic level) should be encouraged.