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Confronting variability with uncertainty in the ecotoxicological impact assessment of down-the-drain products

Douziech, Mélanie, Oldenkamp, Rik, van Zelm, Rosalie, King, Henry, Hendriks, A. Jan, Ficheux, Anne-Sophie, Huijbregts, Mark A.J.
Environment international 2019 v.126 pp. 37-45
Monte Carlo method, ecotoxicology, equations, freshwater, models, physicochemical properties, prediction, quantitative structure-activity relationships, risk, toxicity, uncertainty
The use of down-the-drain products and the resultant release of chemicals may lead to pressures on the freshwater environment. Ecotoxicological impact assessment is a commonly used approach to assess chemical products but is still influenced by several uncertainty and variability sources. As a result, the robustness and reliability of such assessments can be questioned. A comprehensive and systematic assessment of these sources is, therefore, needed to increase their utility and credibility. In this study, we present a method to systematically analyse the uncertainty and variability of the potential ecotoxicological impact (PEI) of chemicals using a portfolio of 54 shampoo products. We separately quantified the influence of the statistical uncertainty in the prediction of physicochemical properties and freshwater toxicity as predicted from Quantitative Structure-Property Relationships (QSPRs) and Quantitative Structure-Activity Relationships (QSARs) respectively, and of various sources of spatial and technological variability as well as variability in consumer habits via 2D Monte Carlo simulations. Overall, the variation in the PEIs of shampoo use was mainly the result of uncertainty due to the use of toxicity data from three species only. All uncertainty sources combined resulted in PEIs ranging on average over seven orders of magnitude (ratio of the 90th to the 10th percentile) so that an absolute quantification of the ecological risk would not be meaningful. In comparison, variation in shampoo composition was the most influential source of variability, although less than compared to uncertainty, leading to PEIs ranging over three orders of magnitude. Increasing the number of toxicity data by increasing the number of species, either through additional measurements or ecotoxicological modelling (e.g. using Interspecies Correlation Equations), should get priority to improve the reliability of PEIs. These conclusions are not limited to shampoos but are applicable more generally to the down-the-drain products since they all have similar data limitations and associated uncertainties relating to the availability of ecotoxicity data and variability in consumer habits and use.