Influence of bicarbonate and humic acid on effects of chronic waterborne lead exposure to the fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas)

Edward M. Mager, Kevin V. Brix, Martin Grosell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Historically, the USEPA has only considered water hardness when establishing acute and chronic water quality criteria (WQC) for lead (Pb) in freshwater. Yet, recent evidence suggests that hardness may not be protective during chronic Pb exposure and that other factors (e.g., dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and alkalinity) influence toxicity. In fact, we have recently shown that Ca2+ (as CaSO4) does not protect against Pb accumulation in fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) during chronic exposures whereas DOC as humic acid (HA) clearly does. To more clearly define the water chemistry parameters mediating chronic Pb toxicity we carried out 300 d exposures to study the influence of DOC and alkalinity on Pb accumulation and toxicity to fathead minnows at 2 different Pb concentrations (170 and 580 nM (35 and 120 μg/L)). Alkalinity was adjusted by addition of 500 μM NaHCO3 and DOC by addition of 4 mg/L HA. Fish were collected at 4, 30, 150 and 300 d of exposure to measure growth and Pb accumulation. Breeding assays (21 d) were performed at the end of these exposures to assess reproductive and larval behavioral endpoints. To determine whether effects were acute or chronic, switched breeding exposures were performed in which control breeders were transferred to either high or low Pb conditions and Pb-exposed breeders transferred to tap water without Pb. Mortality and growth effects were observed primarily in the high Pb treatments and within the first 10 d of exposure. Strong protection against Pb accumulation was afforded by increased DOC at both Pb concentrations. Increased alkalinity also appeared to moderately reduce Pb accumulation although not to the level of statistical significance. Tissue distribution of Pb was analyzed at 300 d and was found to accumulate mostly in bone, gill, intestine and kidney. Unexpectedly, high Pb reduced total reproductive output and increased average egg mass in the HCO3- and DOC treatments but not in the control water (+Pb) treatments. No statistically significant differences in egg hatchability or egg Pb accumulation were observed. Results from switched exposures suggest that embryo Pb accumulation arose from acute exposure to embryos rather than parental transfer. Finally, prey capture assays revealed potential Pb-induced motor/behavioral impairment in 10-d-old F1 larvae exposed to high Pb in all water treatments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)135-144
Number of pages10
JournalAquatic Toxicology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 31 2010


  • Alkalinity
  • Biotic ligand model (BLM)
  • Humic acid
  • Lead (Pb) toxicity
  • Reproduction
  • Water quality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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