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Probabilistic Risk Assessment and Risk Mapping of Sediment Metals in Sydney Harbour Embayments

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Sediment metal concentrations in embayments of Sydney Harbour, acquired from the literature and from samples collected for this study, were used to generate contaminant probability density distributions using AQUARISK. The sediment metal concentrations often exceeded Australia's interim sediment quality guidelines. Similarly, estuarine spiked sediment toxicity test literature provided adverse biotic effects concentration data to generate species sensitivity distributions using AQUARISK. Although the harbor is subject to other inorganic and organic contamination, we have used sediment metals to demonstrate an approach for ecological risk mapping and environmental management prioritization. Sufficient spiked sediment toxicity test data were found for only three metals—Cd, Cu, and Zn—and some tests were likely to overestimate toxicity. The estimates of the hazardous concentration to 5% of species (the 50th percentile of the 95% species protection level) were 5, 12, and 40 mg/kg DW of total sediment metal for Cd, Cu, and Zn, respectively. These values were generally low when compared with the interim sediment quality guidelines due to the overestimation of toxic effects in the literature data. The parameters for the species sensitivity distributions have been combined with the measured sediment metal concentrations in Homebush Bay to generate risk maps of the estimated species impact for each metal as well as for all three metals collectively assuming proportional additivity. This has demonstrated the utility of comparing contaminants on a consistent scale—ecological risk.
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Keywords: Precautionary Principle; metals; probabilistic ecological risk assessment; risk mapping; sediments

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Institute for Environmental Research, Australian Nuclear Science & Technology Organisation, Menai, NSW, Australia

Publication date: 2008-11-01

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