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Keywords:

  • Contaminated sediments;
  • Weight of evidence;
  • Toxicity;
  • Benthos;
  • Biomagnification

Abstract

A decision-making framework for determining whether or not contaminated sediments are polluted is described. This framework is intended to be sufficiently prescriptive to standardize the decision-making process but without using “cook book” assessments. It emphasizes 4 guidance “rules”: (1) sediment chemistry data are only to be used alone for remediation decisions when the costs of further investigation outweigh the costs of remediation and there is agreement among all stakeholders to act; (2) remediation decisions are based primarily on biology; (3) lines of evidence (LOE), such as laboratory toxicity tests and models that contradict the results of properly conducted field surveys, are assumed incorrect; and (4) if the impacts of a remedial alternative will cause more environmental harm than good, then it should not be implemented. Sediments with contaminant concentrations below sediment quality guidelines (SQGs) that predict toxicity to less than 5% of sediment-dwelling infauna and that contain no quantifiable concentrations of substances capable of biomagnifying are excluded from further consideration, as are sediments that do not meet these criteria but have contaminant concentrations equal to or below reference concentrations. Biomagnification potential is initially addressed by conservative (worst case) modeling based on benthos and sediments and, subsequently, by additional food chain data and more realistic assumptions. Toxicity (acute and chronic) and alterations to resident communities are addressed by, respectively, laboratory studies and field observations. The integrative decision point for sediments is a weight of evidence (WOE) matrix combining up to 4 main LOE: chemistry, toxicity, community alteration, and biomagnification potential. Of 16 possible WOE scenarios, 6 result in definite decisions, and 10 require additional assessment. Typically, this framework will be applied to surficial sediments. The possibility that deeper sediments may be uncovered as a result of natural or other processes must also be investigated and may require similar assessment.