Ecotoxicology is the study of toxic effects caused by natural or man-made substances on biota. Through ecotoxicology we are able to determine the levels and types of contaminants that cause harm to animals and plants. This can be done for individuals, entire populations and/or communities of organisms exposed to contaminants in the environment (e.g. through stormwater or wastewater discharge). Ecotoxicology provides insight into ecosystem health that cannot be determined from the measurement of chemicals in the environment alone.
The Department of Water uses ecotoxicology to determine the potential impact of a contaminant or mixture of contaminants in sediments and water on organisms such as fish, invertebrates and algae living within a waterway. This allows us to predict the effects of contaminants known to exist in a waterway so that measures to prevent or remediate any detrimental effect can be applied. It also enables us to determine which specific contaminant(s) from a complex mixture may be responsible for an observed environmental impact.
Understanding the potential toxicity of contaminated sediments and surface water both within and entering our rivers and estuaries will assist the Department in assessing river health and estuarine health and may also be linked to fish kills.
Ecotoxicological techniques have recently been applied by the Department of Water in the Swan and Canning Estuaries and the Peel Harvey.
Ecotoxicology can also be used in determining the suitability of wastewater and stormwater for recycling.