Characterization of ecotoxicological risks from unintentional mixture exposures calculated from European freshwater monitoring data: Forwarding prospective chemical risk management


Current regulatory chemical safety assessments do not acknowledge that ambient exposures are to multiple chemicals at the same time. As a result, potentially harmful exposures to unintentional mixtures may occur, leading to potential insufficient protection of the environment. The present study describes cumulative environmental risk assessment results for European fresh water ecosystems, based on the NORMAN chemical surface water monitoring database (1998-2016). It aims to characterize the magnitude of the mixture problem and the relative contribution of chemicals to the mixture risk, and evaluates how cumulative risks reduce when the acceptable risk per single chemical is fractionally lowered. Available monitoring data were curated and aggregated to 26,631 place-time combinations with at least two chemicals, of which 376 place-time combinations had at least 25 chemicals identified above the Limit of Detection. Various risk metrics were based on measured environmental concentrations (MECs). Mixture risk characterization ratio’s (ΣRCRs) ≥ 1 were found for 39% of the place-time combinations, with few chemicals dominating the ΣRCR. Analyses of mixture toxic pressures, expressed as multi-substance Potentially Affected Fractions of species based on No Observed Effect Concentrations (msPAF-NOEC), showed similar outcomes. Small fractional reductions of the ambient chemical concentrations give a steep increase of the percentage of sufficiently protected water bodies (i.e. ΣRCR < 1 and msPAF-NOEC < 5%). Scientific and regulatory aspects of these results are discussed, especially with reference to the representativeness of the monitoring data for characterizing ambient mixtures, the robustness of the findings, and the possible regulatory implementation of the concept of a Mixture Allocation Factor (MAF) for prospective chemicals risk management. Although the monitoring data do not represent the full spectrum of ambient mixture exposures in Europe, results show the need for adapting policies to reach European Union goals for a toxic-free environment and underpin the utility and possible magnitude of a MAF.

Authors: Emiel Rorije, Pim N H Wassenaar, Jaap Slootweg, Lonneke van Leeuwen, Fleur A van Broekhuizen, Leo Posthuma
; Full Source: The Science of the total environment 2022 Jan 25;153385. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.153385.