SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  8 November 2012
Volume 13 Issue 11

Return to the Globe

SETAC Globe Preview Article: Special Session in Long Beach to Reflect on 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act

Karen Setty, Southern California Coastal Water Research Project and John Toll, Globe Editor-in-Chief

When the Clean Water Act was enacted in the United States on 18 October 1972, no forum existed for interdisciplinary communication among environmental scientists—biologists, chemists, toxicologists—as well as managers, engineers and others interested in environmental issues. SETAC was founded in North America in 1979 to help fill this void. SETAC’s tripartite structure, then as now, makes it an important venue for members of the water quality research and regulatory community to interact and to build a scientific foundation protected against institutional bias.

The upcoming SETAC North America 33rd Annual Meeting in Long Beach falls within a month of the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act's enactment and offers a timely opportunity to pause and reflect on the changes in America's waterways stemming from the enormous decades-long collective efforts of environmental scientists, engineers, advocates, managers and policy-makers.

A special symposium will be held Monday, 12 November (in room 201A) from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. focusing on how the Clean Water Act influenced water quality conditions across the country. The session includes case studies on the primary goals of the Clean Water Act (ensuring swimmability, fishability and ecosystem protection), as well as remaining challenges and lessons for the future. The speakers will represent freshwater and marine aquatic habitats from southern California, San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound and the southeastern US.

Research done by SETAC members has had a major influence on water quality science and regulation. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (ET&C) has published key papers in a number of areas important to the Clean Water Act. Among the first was a paper on deriving acute to chronic ratios (ACR) for fish and aquatic invertebrates (Kenega 1982). The ACR is still used today to derive chronic water quality criteria. A few years later ET&C published an editorial entitled “Has the Water Quality Criteria Concept Outlived its Usefulness?” (Kimerlee 1986). The author’s answer was a qualified no, which is probably the conclusion many would still reach today. That same year, ET&C published a paper on using in-stream monitoring data to derive site-specific water quality criteria (Van Hassel and Gaulke 1986). Further, among ET&C’s most highly influential papers (as measured by frequency of citation) are publications on aquatic toxicity test methodology (e.g., Mount and Norberg 1984; Williams and Dusenbery 1990), water and sediment chemistry effects on metals toxicity (e.g., Erickson et al. 1996; Ankley et al. 1996; Berry et al. 1996; Di Toro et al. 2001; Santore et al. 2001) and derivation of sediment quality benchmarks based on equilibrium partitioning theory (e.g., Di Toro et al. 1991). These seminal papers just scratch the surface of the influential body of work published by ET&C on water quality science and regulation.

In recent years Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management (IEAM) has provided another outlet for publishing in areas important to the Clean Water Act. Examples include papers on protectiveness of water quality criteria (e.g., Van Genderen et al. 2008; Gensemer et al. 2009; DeForest et al 2011a; DeForest et al 2011b; Guy et al. 2011; Gilron 2012; McLaughlin 2012), development and testing of new models and methods for deriving water quality criteria (e.g., Arnold and Warren-Hicks 2007, Natale et al. 2007, Slaughter et al. 2007, Arnold and Cotsifas 2008; Cormier et al. 2008; Adams et al. 2011, Meador et al. 2011, DeForest et al. 2012) and watershed-scale water quality assessment (e.g., Stubblefield et al. 2005; Flinders et al. 2009; Merot et al. 2009; Seitz et al., 2012).

Workshops are another SETAC forum that has played an important role in the development of water quality science and regulation, since the early days of the Clean Water Act. The first half-dozen Pellston workshops (1977-1984) tackled important topics in water quality science and regulation. Subsequent SETAC workshops covered many other important topics, but to this day water quality science and regulation remain important recurring themes for SETAC workshops:

  • Estimating the Hazard of Chemical Substances to Aquatic Life (1977)
  • Analyzing the Hazard Evaluation Process (1978)
  • Biotransformation and Fate of Chemicals in the Aquatic Environment (1979)
  • Modeling the Fate of Chemicals in the Aquatic Environment (1981)
  • Environmental Hazard Assessment of Effluents (1982)
  • Fate and Effects of Sediment-Bound Chemicals in Aquatic Systems (1984)
  • Aquatic Microcosms for Ecological Assessment of Pesticides (1991)
  • A Mechanistic Understanding of Bioavailability: Physical-Chemical Interactions (1992)
  • Ecotoxicological Risk Assessment for Chlorinated Organic Chemicals (1994)
  • Ecotoxicology and Risk Assessment for Wetlands (1995)
  • Ecological Risk Assessment of Contaminated Sediments (1995)
  • Whole-Effluent Toxicity Testing: An Evaluation of Methods and Prediction of Receiving System Impacts (1995)
  • Reproductive and Developmental Effects of Contaminants in Oviparous Vertebrates (1997)
  • Re-evaluation of the State of the Science for Water Quality Criteria Development (1998)
  • Endocrine Disruption in Invertebrates: Endocrinology, Testing and Assessment (1998)
  • Ecological Assessment of Aquatic Resources: Application, Implementation and Communication (2000)
  • The Role of Dietary Exposure in the Evaluation of Risk of Metals to Aquatic Organisms (2002)
  • Use of Sediment Quality Guidelines and Related Tools for the Assessment of Contaminated Sediments (2002)
  • Science for Assessment of the Impacts of Human Pharmaceuticals on Aquatic Ecosystems (2003)
  • Veterinary Medicines in the Environment (2006)
  • Tissue Residue Approach for Toxicity Assessment: Invertebrates and Fish (2007)
  • Science-Based Guidance and Framework for Evaluation and Identification of PBTs and POPs (2008)
  • Ecological Assessment of Selenium in the Aquatic Environment (2009)

Clearly, SETAC and the Clean Water Act have grown up together! Come to hear diverse perspectives and share in the discussion, as SETAC joins the nation in celebrating successes from the first 40 years of the Clean Water Act and planning to tackle the emerging issues of the next 40 years.

Authors’ contact information:;


Literature cited
Adams, W. J., Blust, R., Borgmann, U., Brix, K. V., DeForest, D. K., Green, A. S., Meyer, J. S., McGeer, J. C., Paquin, P. R., Rainbow, P. S. and Wood, C. M. (2011), Utility of tissue residues for predicting effects of metals on aquatic organisms. Integr Environ Assess Manag, 7: 75–98. doi: 10.1002/ieam.108.

Ankley, G. T., Di Toro, D. M., Hansen, D. J. and Berry, W. J. (1996), Technical basis and proposal for deriving sediment quality criteria for metals. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 15: 2056–2066. doi: 10.1002/etc.5620151202.

Arnold, W. R. and Cotsifas, J. S. (2008), An assessment of the application factor used to derive the saltwater acute ambient water quality copper criterion. Integr Environ Assess Manag, 4: 252–254. doi: 10.1897/IEAM_2007-053.1.

Arnold, W. R. and Warren-Hicks, W. J. (2007), Probability-based estimates of site-specific copper water quality criteria for the Chesapeake Bay, USA. Integr Environ Assess Manag, 3: 101–117. doi: 10.1002/ieam.5630030109.

Berry, W.J., Hansen, D.J., Boothman, W.S., Mahony, J.D., Robson, D.L., Di Toro, D.M., Shipley, B.P., Rogers, B. and Corbin, J.M. (1996), Predicting the toxicity of metal-spiked laboratory sediments using acid-volatile sulfide and interstitial water normalizations. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 15: 2067–2079. doi: 10.1002/etc.5620151203.

Cormier, S. M., Paul, J. F., Spehar, R. L., Shaw-Allen, P., Berry, W. J. and Suter, G. W. (2008), Using field data and weight of evidence to develop water quality criteria. Integr Environ Assess Manag, 4: 490–504. doi: 10.1897/IEAM_2008-018.1.

DeForest, D. K., Meyer, J. S., Gensemer, R. W., Shepard, B. K., Adams, W. J., Dwyer, R. L., Gorsuch, J. W. and Van Genderen, E. J. (2011a), Are ambient water quality criteria for copper protective of olfactory impairment in fish?. Integr Environ Assess Manag, 7: 145–146. doi: 10.1002/ieam.148.

DeForest, D. K., Gensemer, R. W., Van Genderen, E. J. and Gorsuch, J. W. (2011b), Protectiveness of water quality criteria for copper in western United States waters relative to predicted olfactory responses in juvenile Pacific salmon. Integr Environ Assess Manag, 7: 336–347. doi: 10.1002/ieam.161.

DeForest, D. K., Gilron, G., Armstrong, S. A. and Robertson, E. L. (2012), Species sensitivity distribution evaluation for selenium in fish eggs: Considerations for development of a Canadian tissue-based guideline. Integr Environ Assess Manag, 8: 6–12. doi: 10.1002/ieam.245.

Di Toro, D. M., Zarba, C. S., Hansen, D. J., Berry, W. J., Swartz, R. C., Cowan, C. E., Pavlou, S. P., Allen, H. E., Thomas, N. A. and Paquin, P. R. (1991), Technical basis for establishing sediment quality criteria for nonionic organic chemicals using equilibrium partitioning. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 10: 1541–1583. doi: 10.1002/etc.5620101203.

Di Toro, D. M., Allen, H. E., Bergman, H. L., Meyer, J. S., Paquin, P. R. and Santore, R. C. (2001), Biotic ligand model of the acute toxicity of metals. 1. Technical Basis. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 20: 2383–2396. doi: 10.1002/etc.5620201034.

Erickson, R. J., Benoit, D. A., Mattson, V. R., Leonard, E. N. and Nelson, H. P. (1996), The effects of water chemistry on the toxicity of copper to fathead minnows. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 15: 181–193. doi: 10.1002/etc.5620150217.

Flinders, C. A., Ragsdale, R. L. and Hall, T. J. (2009), Patterns of fish community structure in a long-term watershed-scale study to address the aquatic ecosystem effects of pulp and paper mill discharges in four us receiving streams. Integr Environ Assess Manag, 5: 219–233. doi: 10.1897/IEAM_2008-057.1.

Gensemer, R., Meyerhoff, R., Ramage, K., Curley, E. and Suter, G. (2009), Relevance of ambient water quality criteria for ephemeral and effluent-dependent watercourses of the arid western united states. Integr Environ Assess Manag, 5: 723. doi: 10.1002/ieam.5630050424.

Gilron, G. (2012), The selenium drinking water quality guideline in Canada: The case for a re-evaluation. Integr Environ Assess Manag, 8: 194–196. doi: 10.1002/ieam.1252.

Guy, M., Singh, L. and Mineau, P. (2011), Using field data to assess the effects of pesticides on crustacea in freshwater aquatic ecosystems and verifying the level of protection provided by water quality guidelines. Integr Environ Assess Manag, 7: 426–436. doi: 10.1002/ieam.143.

Kenaga, E. E. (1982), Predictability of chronic toxicity from acute toxicity of chemicals in fish and aquatic invertebrates. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 1: 347–358. doi: 10.1002/etc.5620010410.

Kimerle, R. A. (1986), Has the water quality criteria concept outlived its usefulness?. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 5: 113–115. doi: 10.1002/etc.5620050201.

McLaughlin, D. B. (2012), Assessing the predictive performance of risk-based water quality criteria using decision error estimates from receiver operating characteristics (ROC) analysis. Integr Environ Assess Manag, 8: 674–684. doi: 10.1002/ieam.1301.

Meador, J. P., Adams, W. J., Escher, B. I., McCarty, L. S., McElroy, A. E. and Sappington, K. G. (2011), The tissue residue approach for toxicity assessment: Findings and critical reviews from a Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Pellston Workshop. Integr Environ Assess Manag, 7: 2–6. doi: 10.1002/ieam.133.

Merot, P., Aurousseau, P., Gascuel-Odoux, C. and Durand, P. (2009), Innovative assessment tools to improve water quality and watershed management in farming areas. Integr Environ Assess Manag, 5: 158–166. doi: 10.1897/IEAM_2008-025.1.

Mount, D. I. and Norberg, T. J. (1984), A seven-day life cycle cladoceran toxicity test. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 3: 425–434. doi: 10.1002/etc.5620030307.

Natale, O. E., Gómez, C. E. and Leis, M. V. (2007), Application of the biotic ligand model for regulatory purposes to selected rivers in Argentina with extreme water-quality characteristics. Integr Environ Assess Manag, 3: 517–528. doi: 10.1897/IEAM_2006-058.1.

Santore, R. C., Di Toro, D. M., Paquin, P. R., Allen, H. E. and Meyer, J. S. (2001), Biotic ligand model of the acute toxicity of metals. 2. Application to acute copper toxicity in freshwater fish and Daphnia. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 20: 2397–2402. doi: 10.1002/etc.5620201035.

Seitz, N. E., Westbrook, C. J., Dubé, M. G. and Squires, A. J. (2012), Assessing large spatial scale landscape change effects on water quality and quantity response in the lower Athabasca River basin. Integr Environ Assess Manag., accepted article. doi: 10.1002/ieam.1336.

Slaughter, A. R., Palmer, C. G. and Muller, W. J. (2007), An assessment of two-step linear regression and multifactor probit analysis as alternatives to acute to chronic ratios in the estimation of chronic response from acute toxicity data to derive water quality guidelines. Integr Environ Assess Manag, 3: 193–202. doi: 10.1897/IEAM_2005-081.1.

Stubblefield, A., Chandra, S., Eagan, S., Tuvshinjargal, D., Davaadorzh, G., Gilroy, D., Sampson, J., Thorne, J., Allen, B. and Hogan, Z. (2005), Impacts of gold mining and land use alterations on the water quality of central Mongolian rivers. Integr Environ Assess Manag, 1: 365–373. doi: 10.1002/ieam.5630010406.

Van Genderen, E., Adams, W., Cardwell, R., van Sprang, P., Arnold, R., Santore, R. and Rodriguez, P. (2008), An evaluation of the bioavailability and aquatic toxicity attributed to ambient copper concentrations in surface waters from several parts of the world. Integr Environ Assess Manag, 4: 416–424. doi: 10.1897/IEAM_2008-014.1.

Van Hassel, J. H. and Gaulke, A. E. (1986), Water quality-based criteria for toxics: Scientific, regulatory and political considerations: Site-specific water quality criteria from in-stream monitoring data. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 5: 417–426. doi: 10.1002/etc.5620050501.

Williams, P. L. and Dusenbery, D. B. (1990), Aquatic toxicity testing using the nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 9: 1285–1290. doi: 10.1002/etc.5620091007.

Return to the Globe

SETAC mission statement Contact SETAC Globe
Contact the SETAC North America office
Contact the SETAC Europe office