Martin Vaughan and Roger van Egmond
At present, the acute toxicity of chemicals to fish is most commonly estimated by means of a short-term test on juvenile or adult animals (OECD TG 203). Although, over the last few years, the numbers used have been reduced due to the implementation of the Three Rs (Reduction, Refinement and Replacement), significant numbers of fish are still used in acute toxicity tests. With the introduction of the new European Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) system, this number is likely to increase dramatically. The aim of this work was to test the acute toxicity of a number of anionic, cationic and non-ionic surfactants to embryos of the zebrafish (Danio rerio), over 48 hours, as a possible alternative to the standard 96-hour fish acute test. We measured the toxicities of 15 surfactants, and compared the results to previously generated adult D. rerio LC50 data (or other fish species, if these data were not available). Comparison of the LC50 data showed that embryos appear to be as sensitive to cationic and non-ionic surfactants as the adult fish, but possibly are more sensitive to anionic surfactants. Toxicity testing with the embryo test can be carried out more quickly than with the adult test, uses much less space and media, requires less effort, and therefore can be performed at a reduced cost. The embryo test may also uncover additional sub-lethal effects, although these were not observed for surfactants. The data presented here show that the 48-hour embryo test can be considered as a suitable alternative to the adult acute fish test for surfactants.
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