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Water: Contaminated Sediments

Assessment Methods

Methods for Assessing the Chronic Toxicity of Marine and Estuarine Sediment-associated Contaminants with the Amphipod Leptocheirus plumulosus—First Edition

Fact sheet

EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) published procedures for testing an estuarine organism in the laboratory to evaluate the potential toxicity of chemicals in whole sediments. This document supplements (but does not replace) procedures originally published in 1994 (EPA/600/R-94/025), for measuring acute sediment toxicity in marine and estuarine sediments. This document outlines a sediment toxicity method for the marine amphipod Leptocheirus plumulosus to evaluate the sublethal effects (reduction in growth and reproduction) of marine and estuarine sediments.


Sediment contamination is a widespread environmental problem that can potentially pose a threat to aquatic ecosystems. Sediment acts as a reservoir for common chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and metals such as lead, mercury, and arsenic. Contaminated sediments may be directly toxic to aquatic life (organisms found in the water and in or near the sediment) or can be a source of contaminants for bioaccumulation (where a substance is taken up by an organism) in the food chain.

Why publish these methods?

In the past, assessment of sediment quality was limited to chemical characterizations. This type of analysis alone cannot always provide enough information to adequately evaluate potential adverse effects from interactions among chemicals, or that result from time-dependent availability of sediment-associated contaminants to aquatic organisms. Therefore, controlled toxicity tests may be required to determine the adverse effects of contaminated sediment on aquatic organisms.

What does this method involve?

This method involves exposing cultured, neonate (newborn) amphipods of the species Leptocheirus plumulosus to test and control sediments for a period of 28 days, at which point survival, growth, and reproduction of the amphipods are measured as the test endpoints.

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What is the applicability of this method?

This method will offer a consistent testing protocol to help in evaluating the ecological risks of contaminants in whole marine and estuarine sediments. The use of this uniform sediment testing procedure is expected to increase data accuracy and precision, facilitate test replication, and increase the comparative value of test results. This method also provides a consistent testing protocol for other federal agencies, states, and tribes.

This manual has no immediate or direct regulatory consequence. It does not impose legally binding requirements on the EPA, USACE, states, tribes, other regulatory authorities, or the regulated community, and may not apply to a particular situation based upon the circumstances. EPA or USACE may change this manual in the future.

How can I get a copy of the this manual?

Copies of the complete document, titled Methods for Assessing the Chronic Toxicity of Marine and Estuarine Sediment-associated Contaminants with the Amphipod Leptocheirus plumulosus - First Edition (PDF) (About PDF, 20 pp, 5.7MB; EPA 600-R-01-020) are available at the National Service Center for Environmental Publications, P.O. Box 42419, Cincinnati, OH., 45242 by phone at 1-800-490-9198 or on their Web site.

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