The hazard for photoactivated toxicity of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) has been clearly demonstrated; however, to our knowledge, the risk in contaminated systems has not been characterized. To address this question, a median lethal dose (LD50) for fluoranthene photoactivated toxicity in medaka (Oryzias latipes) embryos was determined experimentally and then compared with ultraviolet-A (UV-A; 320-400 nm) radiation exposures in a PAH-contaminated field site. The dose metric, J/cm2/ μg fluoranthene/g egg wet weight, provided the means to estimate risk as the depth where the LD50 level would be exceeded at realistic field PAH concentrations, based on estimates of UV-A exposure. The estimates were made using 30 years of solar radiation data for Duluth (MN, USA) and measurements of water-column UV-A transmittance in a PAH-contaminated field site. Medaka embryo failure was strongly related to tissue PAH concentration and UV-A exposure. The LD50 was estimated to be 12.64 J/cm2/ μg fluoranthene/g egg wet weight; the 95% confidence interval was 8.46 to 19.7 J/cm2/μg fluoranthene/g egg wet weight. Embryo failures were characterized by undifferentiated cell proliferation that occurred very early in development. No partial effects or embryo/larval malformations were observed. Estimates of the depth at which the LD50 would be exceeded in the contaminated field site ranged from 10.7 cm (clear-sky conditions and lowest attenuation) to 0.0 cm (cloudy conditions and highest attenuation). Similar calculations were done using water-column attenuation estimates from 12 sites across the Great Lakes (USA). For these, the depths at which the LD50 would be exceeded ranged from 0.00 to 271.6 cm under the conditions described above. These results suggest that PAH phototoxicity may be a risk factor in specific contaminated sites, and they provide a framework for assessing that risk.
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons