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The effect of water hardness on the toxicity of uranium to a tropical freshwater alga (Chlorella sp.)
Charles, A.L.; Markich, S.J.; Stauber, J.L.; De Filippis, L.F. (2002). The effect of water hardness on the toxicity of uranium to a tropical freshwater alga (Chlorella sp.). Aquat. Toxicol. 60(1-2): 61-73
In: Aquatic Toxicology. Elsevier Science: Tokyo; New York; London; Amsterdam. ISSN 0166-445X, more
Peer reviewed article  

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Keywords
    Algae; Chemical speciation; Fresh water; Toxicity; Uranium; Water hardness; Chlorella M.Beijerinck, 1890 [WoRMS]; Papua New Guinea [Marine Regions]; Fresh water

Authors  Top 
  • Charles, A.L.
  • Markich, S.J.
  • Stauber, J.L.
  • De Filippis, L.F.

Abstract
    Uranium (U) derived from mining activities is of potential ecotoxicological concern to freshwater biota in tropical northern Australia. Few data are available on the effects of water hardness (Ca and/or Mg), which is elevated in U mine wastewaters, on the toxicity and bioavailability of U to freshwater biota, particularly algae. This study determined the effect of water hardness (8, 40, 100 and 400 mg CaCO3 l-1, added as calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg) sulphate) on the toxicity (72 h growth rate inhibition) of U to the unicellular green alga, Chlorella sp., in synthetic freshwater, at constant pH (7.0) and alkalinity (8 mg CaCO3 l-1), similar in chemical composition to sandy coastal streams in tropical northern Australia. A 50-fold increase in water hardness resulted in a 5-fold decrease (P less or equal to 0.05) in the toxicity of U to Chlorella sp. (i.e. the 72 h EC50 increased from 56 to 270 µg U l-1). Possible explanation for the ameliorative effect of water hardness includes: (i) competition between U and Ca and/or Mg for binding sites on the cell surface; and (ii) a change in U speciation, and hence, bioavailability. Results showed that extracellular (cell-surface) and intracellular U concentrations significantly (P<0.05) decreased (2-5-fold) as water hardness increased from 8 to 400 mg CaCO3 l-1. Calculation of U speciation using the geochemical model HARPHRQ showed that there were no significant (P>0.05) differences in the predicted speciation (% distribution) of U amongst the four water hardness levels. The reduction in U toxicity with increasing water hardness was most likely due to competition between U and Ca and/or Mg for binding sites on the algal cell surface. The minimum detectable effect concentrations of U were approximately 3 and 24 times higher (at 8 and 400 mg CaCO3 l-1 hardness, respectively) than the national interim U guideline value (0.5 µg l-1) for protecting aquatic ecosystems. Overall, the results reinforce the need for a more flexible U guideline based on a hardness-dependent algorithm, which may allow environmental managers to relax the national guideline for U on a site-specific basis.

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