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Keywords:

  • Mixture toxicity;
  • Independent action;
  • Isoboles;
  • Synergism;
  • Antagonism

Abstract

Ecological risk assessments must increasingly consider the effects of chemical mixtures on the environment as anthropogenic pollution continues to grow in complexity. Yet testing every possible mixture combination is impractical and unfeasible; thus, there is an urgent need for models that can accurately predict mixture toxicity from single-compound data. Currently, two models are frequently used to predict mixture toxicity from single-compound data: Concentration addition and independent action (IA). The accuracy of the predictions generated by these models is currently debated and needs to be resolved before their use in risk assessments can be fully justified. The present study addresses this issue by determining whether the IA model adequately described the toxicity of binary mixtures of five pesticides and other environmental contaminants (cadmium, chlorpyrifos, diuron, nickel, and prochloraz) each with dissimilar modes of action on the reproduction of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. In three out of 10 cases, the IA model failed to describe mixture toxicity adequately with significant or antagonism being observed. In a further three cases, there was an indication of synergy, antagonism, and effect-level–dependent deviations, respectively, but these were not statistically significant. The extent of the significant deviations that were found varied, but all were such that the predicted percentage effect seen on reproductive output would have been wrong by 18 to 35% (i.e., the effect concentration expected to cause a 50% effect led to an 85% effect). The presence of such a high number and variety of deviations has important implications for the use of existing mixture toxicity models for risk assessments, especially where all or part of the deviation is synergistic.