Time-averaged concentrations are effective for predicting chronic toxicity of varying copper pulse exposures for two freshwater green algae species
Intermittent, fluctuating and pulsed contaminant discharges may result in organisms receiving highly variable contaminant exposures. This study investigated the effects of dissolved copper pulse concentration and exposure duration on the toxicity to two freshwater green algae species. The effects of single copper pulses of between 1 and 48 h duration and continuous exposures (72 h) on growth rate inhibition of Pseudokirchneriella subcapitata and Chlorella sp. were compared on a time-averaged concentration (TAC) basis. Relationships were then derived between the exposure concentration and duration required to elicit different levels of toxicity expressed as inhibition concentration (IC). Continuous exposure IC50's of 3.0 and 1.9 μg/L were measured on a TAC basis for P. subcapitata and Chlorella sp., respectively. Algal growth rates generally recovered to control levels within 24-48 h of the copper pulse removal, with some treatments exhibiting significantly (p < 0.05) higher rates of cell division than controls in this recovery period. For both algae, when exposed to treatments with equivalent TACs, the continuous exposure elicited similar or slightly greater growth rate inhibition than the pulsed exposures. To elicit equivalent inhibition, the exposure concentration increased as the exposure duration decreased, and power models fitted this relationship reasonably well for both species. Water quality guideline values (WQGVs) are predominantly derived using data from continuous exposure toxicity bioassays, despite intermittent contaminant exposures often occurring in aquatic systems. The results indicate the WQGV for copper may be relaxed for pulsed exposures by a factor less than or equivalent to the TAC and still achieve a protection to these sensitive algae species.