Measuring and monitoring persistent organic pollutants in the context of risk assessment

Shiu Sun Rudolf WU, Alice K. Y. CHAN, Bruce J. RICHARDSON, Doris W. T. AU, James K. H. FANG, Paul K. S. LAM, John P. GIESY

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32 Citations (Scopus)


Due to growing concerns regarding persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the environment, extensive studies and monitoring programs have been carried out in the last two decades to determine their concentrations in water, sediment, and more recently, in biota. An extensive review and analysis of the existing literature shows that whilst the vast majority of these efforts either attempt to compare (a) spatial changes (to identify "hot spots"), or (b) temporal changes to detect deterioration/improvement occurring in the environment, most studies could not provide sufficient statistical power to estimate concentrations of POPs in the environment and detect spatial and temporal changes. Despite various national POPs standards having been established, there has been a surprising paucity of emphasis in establishing accurate threshold concentrations that indicate potential significant threats to ecosystems and public health. Although most monitoring programs attempt to check compliance through reference to certain "environmental quality objectives", it should be pointed out that many of these established standards are typically associated with a large degree of uncertainty and rely on a large number of assumptions, some of which may be arbitrary. Non-compliance should trigger concern, so that the problem can be tracked down and rectified, but non-compliance must not be interpreted in a simplistic and mechanical way. Contaminants occurring in the physical environment may not necessarily be biologically available, and even when they are bioavailable, they may not necessarily elicit adverse biological effects at the individual or population levels. As such, we here argue that routine monitoring and reporting of abiotic and biotic POPs concentrations could be of limited use, unless such data can be related directly to the assessment of public health and ecological risks. Risk can be inferred from the ratio of predicted environmental concentration (PEC) and the predicted no effect concentration (PNEC). Currently, the paucity of data does not allow accurate estimation of PNEC, and future endeavors should therefore, be devoted to determine the threshold concentrations of POPs that can cause undesirable biological effects on sensitive receivers and important biological components in the receiving environment (e.g. keystone species, populations with high energy flow values, etc.), to enable derivation of PNECs based on solid scientific evidence and reduce uncertainty. Using the threshold body burden of POPs required to elicit damages of lysosomal integrity in the green mussel (Perna virvidis) as an example, we illustrate how measurement of POPs in body tissue could be used in predicting environmental risk in a meaningful way. Copyright © 2008 Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)236-244
JournalMarine Pollution Bulletin
Issue number6-12
Publication statusPublished - 2008


Wu, R. S. S., Chan, A. K. Y., Richardson, B. J., Au, D. W. T., Fang, J. K. H., Lam, P. K. S., & Giesy, J. P. (2008). Measuring and monitoring persistent organic pollutants in the context of risk assessment. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 57(6-12), 236-244. doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2008.03.012


  • POPs
  • Guideline
  • Risk assessment


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