Exposure and risk assessment of zinc in Japanese surface waters

Sci Total Environ. 2010 Sep 15;408(20):4271-84. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2010.06.018.


In recent years, due to concerns on the potential effects of zinc on aquatic biota, zinc is receiving particular attention from regulatory agencies. A comprehensive exposure and risk assessment of zinc in Japanese surface waters was conducted to provide a scientific basis for developing realistic risk reduction measures for zinc. Emissions from corrosion contribute approximately 37% of the total zinc emissions to surface water in Japan. The zinc concentration distributions estimated using 12 years of monitoring data from 2075 sites by a maximum likelihood method indicated that the mean concentrations have gradually declined. The threshold concentrations (HC5 and PHC5) derived from organism- and population-level species sensitivity distributions were estimated to be 27 and 107 microg/L for total zinc, respectively. The risk characterization identified that during 1991-2002, 14.5-26.8% of the monitoring sites likely exceeded the HC5, whereas only 0.7-3.5% likely exceeded the PHC5. Evaluation of the effect of stormwater runoff to zinc concentrations in a river showed that zinc concentrations in river water increased significantly from roadway drainage flowing into the river. The cost-effectiveness analyses demonstrated that enforcement of the zinc national effluent standard may be effective at a certain level for public water areas in Japan; however, the degree of the effectiveness is highly dependent on the characteristics (e.g., sources and background) of the watersheds. An emissions and exposure assessment along with cost-effectiveness analysis is crucial for developing realistic and appropriate ecological risk management of zinc. The zinc RAD in Japan illustrated that in any "state-of-the science" method used, some degree of ecological risk from zinc can be observed in some Japanese water environments. On the other hand, zinc is a beneficial material for human industrial activities. Because zinc is an element, its role in industrial activities would be difficult to be substituted by other metals with less toxicity. In addition to improving science-based risk assessment methodologies which often focus on the toxicological perspectives, it is important to develop a more robust framework considering a trade-off between a damage in ecosystem and a benefit in human activities. Zinc can be a role model for it.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Environmental Exposure / standards
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Fresh Water / chemistry*
  • Japan
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Management / economics
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / standards
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity
  • Water Pollution, Chemical / prevention & control
  • Zinc / analysis*
  • Zinc / standards
  • Zinc / toxicity


  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Zinc