Development of a laboratory river model to determine the environmental impacts of key xenobiotic compounds.
Microorganisms are increasingly used in toxicological studies to determine potential environmental impacts of xenobiotic compounds. A multi-stage laboratory model was developed to facilitate the examination of environmental impacts of selected pollutants on fundamental cycling processes inherent to aquatic ecosystems, namely, the degradation of organic substances and nitrogen transformations under aerobic conditions. A microbial association representative of riverine ecosystems was enriched for, isolated and cultured within the model. Characterisation of the microbial association were undertaken. Scanning electron microscopy and bright field microscopy revealed that a diverse heterogenous community of microorganisms had established within the model. Successional metabolic events, namely organic carbon catabolism, ammonification of organic nitrogen and the process of nitrification were differentiated in time and space with the microbial association integrity still being retained. The establishment of a microbial association within the model was primarily dependent on: dilution rates, specific growth rates and interactions between microorganisms and the prevailing environmental conditions. Growth-rate independent populations of microorganisms established within the model and were thought to contribute significantly to the metabolic processes within the model. Nitrifying activity was identified as a rate-limiting process within the model. Following separation of metabolic events, the ecotoxicological impacts of phenol and 2,4-dichlorophenol on the association were assessed. The biological oxidation of ammonia through to nitrate (nitrification) was found to be a sensitive indicator of perturbation. The model was found to be suitable for testing both acute and chronic intoxication by pollutant compounds as well as for biodegradation testing and the possible evaluation of ecotoxicological impacts of wastewater treatment plants. The main disadvantages of the model arose from its operational complexity, its empirical nature and its impracticality for screening large numbers of compounds. A bioassay based on the inhibition of ammonium oxidation was developed in order to fulfil the requirements for a simple and rapid test protocol for the initial screening of perturbant compounds.