Risk assessment of pesticides in estuaries: a review addressing the persistence of an old problem in complex environments

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Estuaries, coastal lagoons and other transition ecosystems tend to become the ultimate reservoirs of pollutants transported by continental runoff, among which pesticides constitute the class of most concern. High amounts of dissolved and particulated organic matter greatly contribute to the accumulation of pesticides that eventually become trapped in sediments or find their way along food chains. Perhaps not so surprisingly, it is common to find elevated levels of pesticides in estuarine sediments decades after their embargo. Still, it remains challenging to address ecotoxicity in circumstances that invariably imply mixtures of contaminants and multiple factors affecting bioavailability. Despite advances in methods for detecting pesticides in waters, sediments and organisms, chemical data alone are insufficient to predict risk. Many researchers have been opting for ex situ bioassays that mimic the concentrations of pesticides in estuarine waters and sediments using a range of ecologically relevant model organisms, with emphasis on fish, molluscs and crustaceans. These experimental procedures unravelled novel risk factors and important insights on toxicological mechanisms, albeit with some prejudice of ecological relevance. On the other hand, in situ bioassays, translocation experiments and passive biomonitoring strive to spot causality through an intricate mesh of confounding factors and cocktails of pollutants. Seemingly, the most informative works are integrative approaches that combine different assessment strategies, multiple endpoints and advanced computational and geographical models to determine risk. State-of-art System Biology approaches combining high-content screening approaches involving “omics” and bioinformatics, can assist discovering and predicting novel Adverse Outcome Pathways that better reflect the cumulative risk of persisting and emerging pesticides among the wide range of stressors that affect estuaries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1008-1018
Number of pages11
Issue number7(SI)
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2018


  • Brackish water
  • Contaminant mixtures
  • Sediments
  • Systems biology
  • Toxicity
  • Transition ecosystems


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