Receptor-mediated potencies of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in urban sediments: comparisons of toxic equivalency risk assessment

  • W. PheifferEmail author
  • S. Horn
  • T. Vogt
  • J. P. Giesy
  • R. Pieters
Original Paper


The Klip River, flowing through South Africa’s most populated urban area—Soweto and Lenasia—is subject to various pollution and anthropogenic influences, including great concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The aims were to determine the aryl-hydrocarbon receptor-mediated potencies of the 16 priority polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in sediments of the Klip River, using chemical- and bio-analytical assessments of hazard, and to compare these results with international sediment quality guidelines. Sediment samples were collected from nine sites during the dry seasons of 2013 and 2014. Two sets of toxic equivalents were calculated from analytically obtained polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon concentrations using: (1) 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin equivalency factors and (2) relative potency factors for fish. The fraction of the sediment extracts containing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons was assayed with the H4IIE-luc reporter gene bio-assay, and the aryl-hydrocarbon receptor potency expressed as bio-assay equivalents. The bio-assay equivalents and tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin equivalency factors were compared to Canadian sediment quality guidelines and of the three approaches, the bio-assay equivalents and the relative potency factors for fish proved the most protective. Results of this study are proof of the utility of combining biological analysis with instrumental analysis when predicting hazard. Even though there were instances where the bio-assay equivalents were orders of magnitude greater than the tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin equivalency factors, the results still showed similar trends. It was concluded that hazard from aryl-hydrocarbon receptor-mediated potency to adversely affect aquatic organisms in the Klip River was relatively great, which indicated the need for further investigation into possible mitigations.


Hazards Bio-assay equivalents H4IIE-luc Sediment Toxic equivalents 



This study was funded by the Water Research Commission of South Africa (WRC, K2/2242/1/16), and the National Research Foundation (Grant No. 103487 and Innovation student bursary: SF1208219521) with no conflict of interest. Co-authors S. Horn and T. Vogt are also NRF grant holders of non-related projects (Grant Nos. 106242, 89405). Opinions expressed and conclusions arrived at are those of the authors only, and are not necessarily to be attributed to the NRF.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and animal rights

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or vertebrate animals performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

13762_2019_2465_MOESM1_ESM.docx (571 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 570 kb)


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Copyright information

© Islamic Azad University (IAU) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.DST/NWU Preclinical Drug Development PlatformNorth-West UniversityPotchefstroomSouth Africa
  2. 2.Unit for Environmental Sciences and ManagementNorth-West UniversityPotchefstroomSouth Africa
  3. 3.Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences and Toxicology CentreUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada
  4. 4.Department of Zoology, and Centre for Integrative ToxicologyMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  5. 5.State Key Laboratory of Pollution Control and Resource Reuse, School of the EnvironmentNanjing UniversityNanjingChina

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