2. The response of a laboratory stream system to PCB exposure: Study of periphytic and sediment accumulation patterns

Hong Wang, Jill A. Kostel, Ann L. St. Amand, Kimberly A. Gray*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


It has been proposed that the accumulation of PCBs by aquatic organisms is a physicochemical process that is governed by the equilibrium partitioning of PCBs between the organisms and the ambient water. This approach focuses primarily on the hydrophobicity of PCBs, while neglecting the biological impacts of PCB accumulation and possible differences in species-specific response. Furthermore, it does not reflect the complex mechanistic aspects of PCB accumulation. Current modeling, while focusing on accumulation via contaminated food, has been for large lake systems and is not appropriate for lower trophic organism interactions. The objective of this research was to evaluate the ecotoxicological fate of PCBs in a laboratory stream system and to determine if species-specific differences in the accumulation and toxic effects of PCBs existed. Bench scale experiments were conducted to determine kinetic and equilibrium parameters measuring algal uptake of PCB, and these results were used to explain the periphytic response to low level PCB exposure in the laboratory stream system. The results revealed that the accumulation rate, accumulation capacity and toxicity of PCBs differed for the species tested. The observation of PCB fate in the laboratory stream system indicated that PCB volatilization, sediment adsorption and periphyton bioaccumulation were the major pathways of PCB fate. The periphytic biolayer was the significant sink for PCB concentration. The accumulation capacity of periphytic biolayer to PCBs was one order of magnitude greater than that of sediments on a TOC basis. Comparison of the experimental data with model predictions illustrates that equilibrium partitioning models are not very accurate for predicting the accumulation of hydrophobic chemicals by low trophic biota.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3749-3761
Number of pages13
JournalWater Research
Issue number18
StatePublished - Dec 1999


  • Algal bioconcentration factors
  • Equilibrium partitioning theory
  • Laboratory stream system
  • PCBs
  • Periphytic biolayer
  • Sediments

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering


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