The use of the toxicity identification and evaluation (TIE) protocol in the Port of Durban, South Africa.
The Port of Durban, with its close proximity to industrial, urban and agricultural activities, receives a number of chemical pollutants that settle out and accumulate in sediments. Chemical analysis of these sediments has indicated elevated levels of chemicals that, according to sediment quality guidelines, might cause adverse biological effects. However, elevated concentrations alone do not necessarily imply that chemicals are present in bioavailable concentrations high enough to be harmful to organisms that come into contact with them. Thus, chemical tests alone cannot provide an accurate indication of the potential adverse biological effects of these chemicals. In this regard, toxicity tests of sediment porewaters have been developed using sea urchin gametes to assist in determining the bioavailability of chemicals present in porewaters. Further, procedures such as Toxicity Identification and Evaluation (TIE), which involves the manipulation and/or treatment of toxic porewater, have also been developed to assist in the isolation and identification of chemicals causing porewater toxicity. In this research, on a number of sampling occasions between July 2007 and July 2009, three replicate sediment samples were extracted from a site in the Port of Durban known to contain sediment with potentially toxic porewater. Results of initial toxicity tests, using the sea urchin fertilisation test indicated the presence of toxic porewater although, in some instances, porewater toxicity was highly variable between replicate samples. However, results from TIE procedures performed to reduce potentially toxic concentrations of metals, ammonia and organic compounds did not resolve the primary cause of porewater toxicity. Further research indicated that chemicals including hydrogen sulphide, which can occur naturally in organically enriched sediments, may have been confounding factors that masked the potential toxicity of other chemicals present in the sediment samples. Consequently, a sampling strategy and modified TIE procedure have been recommended. The sampling strategy has been designed to assist with detecting and understanding any sample variability that may occur. The modified TIE procedure, which suggests initial procedures to determine and reduce/remove the possible confounding effects of potential naturally occurring compounds such as hydrogen sulphide from the porewater, could be used in future to understand and evaluate the quality of contaminated sediments from similar environments.