Incorporating biomarkers in ecological risk assessment of chemical contaminants of soils
Keywords: Biomerkers, grond, chemiese besoedelstowwe, ekologiese risiko
AbstractSoil is an important but complex natural resource which is increasingly used as sink for chemicals. The monitoring of soil quality and the assessment of risks posed by contaminants have become crucial. This study deals with the potential use of biomarkers in the monitoring of soils and the assessment of risk resulting from contamination. Apart from an overview of the existing literature on biomarkers, the results of various of our field experiments in South African soils are discussed. Biomarkers may have potential in the assessment of risk because they can indicate at an early stage that exposure has taken place and that a toxic response has been initiated. It is therefore expected that early biomarkers will play an increasing role as diagnostic tools for determining exposure to chemicals and the resulting effects. They may have predictive value that can assist in the prevention or minimising of risks. The aim of this study was to investigate the possibilities of using our results on biomarker responses of soil dwelling organisms to predict changes at higher organisational levels (which may have ecological implications). Our recent experimental results on the evaluation of various biomarkers in both the laboratory and the field are interpreted and placed in perspective within the broader framework of response biology. The aim was further to contribute to the development and application of biomarkers in regulatory risk assessment schemes of soils. This critical review of our own and recent literature on biomarkers in ecotoxicology leads to the conclusion that biomarkers can, under certain conditions, be useful tools in risk assessment. Clear relationships between contamination loads in soil organisms and certain biomarker responses were determined in woodlice, earthworms and terrestrial snails. Clear correlations were also established in field experiments between biomarker responses and changes at the population level. This indicated that, in spite of the fact that direct mechanistic links are still not clarified, biomarkers may have the potential to provide early indications of forthcoming changes at higher organisational levels. Ways are proposed in which biomarkers could be used in the future in risk assessment schemes of soils and future research directions are suggested.