Harmonised framework for ecological risk assessment of sediments from ports and estuarine zones of North and South Atlantic
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This paper presents a harmonised framework of sediment quality assessment and dredging material characterisation for estuaries and port zones of North and South Atlantic. This framework, based on the weight-of-evidence approach, provides a structure and a process for conducting sediment/dredging material assessment that leads to a decision. The main structure consists of step 1 (examination of available data); step 2 (chemical characterisation and toxicity assessment); decision 1 (any chemical level higher than reference values? are sediments toxic?); step 3 (assessment of benthic community structure); step 4 (integration of the results); decision 2 (are sediments toxic or benthic community impaired?); step 5 (construction of the decision matrix) and decision 3 (is there environmental risk?). The sequence of assessments may be interrupted when the information obtained is judged to be sufficient for a correct characterisation of the risk posed by the sediments/dredging material. This framework brought novel features compared to other sediment/dredging material risk assessment frameworks: data integration through multivariate analysis allows the identification of which samples are toxic and/or related to impaired benthic communities; it also discriminates the chemicals responsible for negative biological effects; and the framework dispenses the use of a reference area. We demonstrated the successful application of this framework in different port and estuarine zones of the North (Gulf of Cadiz) and South Atlantic (Santos and Paranagua Estuarine Systems).