Effect-directed analysis of Elizabeth River porewater: developmental toxicity in zebrafish (Danio rerio).


In the present study, effect-directed analysis was used to identify teratogenic compounds in porewater collected from a Superfund site along the Elizabeth River estuary (VA, USA). Zebrafish (Danio rerio) exposed to the porewater displayed acute developmental toxicity and cardiac teratogenesis, presumably because of elevated sediment levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from historical creosote use. Pretreatment of porewater with several physical and chemical particle removal methods revealed that colloid-bound chemicals constituted the bulk of the observed toxicity. Size-exclusive chromatography and normal-phase high-performance liquid chromatography were used to fractionate Elizabeth River porewater. Acute toxicity of porewater extracts and extract fractions was assessed as the pericardial area in embryonic zebrafish. The most toxic fraction contained several known aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) agonists (e.g., 1,2-benzofluorene and 1,2-benzanthracene) and cytochrome P450 A1 (CPY1A) inhibitors (e.g., dibenzothiophene and fluoranthene). The second most toxic fraction contained known AhR agonists (e.g., benzo[a]pyrene and indeno[1,2,3-cd]pyrene). Addition of a CYP1A inhibitor, fluoranthene, increased toxicity in all active porewater fractions, suggesting synergism between several contaminants present in porewaters. The results indicate that the observed acute toxicity associated with Elizabeth River porewater results from high concentrations of AhR agonistic PAHs and mixture effects related to interactions between compounds co-occurring at the Elizabeth River site. However, even after extensive fractionation and chemical characterization, it remains plausible that some active compounds in Elizabeth River porewater remain unidentified.