Site-specific probabilistic ecological risk assessment of a volatile chlorinated hydrocarbon-contaminated tidal estuary

James Hunt, Gavin Birch, Michael St J. Warne

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19 Citations (Scopus)


Groundwater contaminated with volatile chlorinated hydrocarbons (VCHs) was identified as discharging to Penrhyn Estuary, an intertidal embayment of Botany Bay, New South Wales, Australia. A screening-level hazard assessment of surface water in Penrhyn Estuary identified an unacceptable hazard to marine organisms posed by VCHs. Given the limitations of hazard assessments, the present study conducted a higher-tier, quantitative probabilistic risk assessment using the joint probability curve (JPC) method that accounted for variability in exposure and toxicity profiles to quantify risk (δ). Risk was assessed for 24 scenarios, including four areas of the estuary based on three exposure scenarios (low tide, high tide, and both low and high tides) and two toxicity scenarios (chronic no-observed-effect concentrations [NOEC] and 50% effect concentrations [EC50]). Risk (δ) was greater at low tide than at high tide and varied throughout the tidal cycle. Spatial distributions of risk in the estuary were similar using both NOEC and EC50 data. The exposure scenario including data combined from both tides was considered the most accurate representation of the ecological risk in the estuary. When assessing risk using data across both tides, the greatest risk was identified in the Springvale tributary (δ = 25%)-closest to the source area-followed by the inner estuary (δ = 4%) and the Floodvale tributary (δ = 2%), with the lowest risk in the outer estuary (δ = 0.1%), farthest from the source area. Going from the screening level ecological risk assessment (ERA) to the probabilistic ERA changed the risk from unacceptable to acceptable in 50% of exposure scenarios in two of the four areas within the estuary. The probabilistic ERA provided a more realistic assessment of risk than the screening-level hazard assessment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1172-1181
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Issue number5
Early online date21 Jan 2010
Publication statusPublished - May 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Chlorinated hydrocarbon
  • Probabilistic ecological risk assessment
  • Quantitative risk
  • Tidal estuary

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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