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Risk assessment of chemical pollution in Mediterranean rivers based on classical periphyton bioindicators and new biomarkers

Authors Natàlia Corcoll
Maja Kuzmanovic
Lídia Ponsatí
Elisabet Tornés
Berta Bonet
Thomas Backhaus
Mira Petrovic
Antoni Ginebreda
Damià Barceló
Helena Guasch
Sergi Sabater
Published in Poster presentation at the SETAC Europe 25th Annual Meeting, Barcelona, Spain
Publication year 2015
Published at Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Language en
Keywords diatoms, biomarkers, periphyton, river pollution, toxic units
Subject categories Biological Sciences


Environmental risk of chemical pollution in Mediterranean basins is of special concern due to high emissions faced with low dilution capacities. The aim of this study is to evaluate the risk of chemical pollution in Mediterranean rivers using periphyton responses as a model to assess chemical impact. The study also aims to compare classical periphyton indicators of water quality (e.g. diatoms diversity) with new biomarkers of toxic stress (e.g chl-a fluorescence parameters and antioxidant enzymatic activities). Nineteen sites in four Iberian rivers (Llobregat, Ebro, Júcar and Guadalquivir) were sampled in autumns 2010 and 2011. A total of 116 organic compounds were detected in surface waters (60 pharmaceuticals and hormones compounds, 11 personal care products and industrial compounds, 36 pesticides and 9 perfluorinated compounds), and 6 metals in periphyton matrix. The potential risk of this cocktail of pollutants was estimated based on the “Toxic Units (TUs)” approach for algae. Results of TUs indicate that the Llobregat and Júcar rivers were those with the highest environmental risk for algae. TUs based on metals bioaccumulation in biofilm were two orders of magnitude higher than those based on organic compounds, being Zn and Cu the metals with the highest risk. Results from diatoms community composition allowed to identify sites with high environmental risk. Communities in these sites presented an altered diatoms composition, where sensitive species to pollution were replaced by tolerant ones. Biomarkers, based on antioxidant enzymatic activities (catalase, glutathione reductase and superoxide dismutase) and chl-a fluorescence parameters (photosynthetic activity and non-photochemical quenching), tended to show a less consistent pattern. Overall, results indicate that in all the Mediterranean basins studied there are many sites with an environmental risk from chemical pollution, and that the current use of periphyton biondicators and biomarkers allow to identify sites presenting high levels of pollution, however, new tools are required to evaluate “in situ” situations of moderate and low chemical pollution

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