Aquatic Toxicity of Chemical Road Dust Suppressants to Freshwater Organisms


Unpaved roads make up at least 14 million kilometers of the worldwide road network. Although investigations of road runoff often are focused on paved roads, unpaved roads contribute large volumes of runoff to roadside aquatic habitats and introduce unique constituents to runoff, such as chemical dust suppressants. At least 200 products across five chemical categories are commercially available for road dust suppression and are typically applied at rates up to 4.5 L/m2. Many of these products are poorly described and are lacking basic information on environmental transport, fate, and potential toxicity to roadside organisms. We characterized the aquatic toxicity of 27 commercially available dust control products, including 13 biobased products from the U.S. Department of Agriculture BioPreferred catalog, using juvenile rainbow trout. Acute toxicity varied by more than 1000-fold among products, with 96-h LC50 values ranging from 1.7 to > 16,000 mg/L. Toxicity was not well-predicted by product category. Testing with selected products after simulated weathering under UV radiation did not provide evidence of photoenhanced toxicity. Additional tests with freshwater mussels, juvenile crayfish, pond snails, and amphibian larvae indicated that juvenile rainbow trout were reasonable surrogates for these organisms for a subset of products. This effort represents one of the first comparative studies of dust suppressant toxicity and provides important information for assessing risk to aquatic resources from a widely used but understudied class of contaminants in road runoff.

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Special thanks to E. Scott, H. Puglis, J. Davis, N. Fischer, J. Counihan, L. Johnson, S. Olson, and R. Espejo for laboratory assistance; to R. Surdahl, D. Jones, P. Bolander, L. Fay, and D. James for technical guidance; and to S. Suder, S. Furniss, and S. Finger for overall project support. The work benefitted from the comments of C. Ingersoll, J. Zajicek, C. Schmitt, J. Steevens, and two anonymous reviewers.


Funding to support this work was provided by the U.S. Federal Lands Highway Refuge Roads Program through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Federal Lands Highway Coordinated Technology Implementation Program (CTIP) through the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey Environmental Health Program.

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All authors contributed to portions of the study conception and design. Material preparation, data collection and analysis were performed by Bethany K. Kunz and Edward E. Little. The first draft of the manuscript was written by Bethany K. Kunz, and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Bethany K. Kunz.

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All animal testing protocols were approved by the USGS Columbia Environmental Research Center (CERC) Animal Care and Use Committee.

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The datasets generated during the current study are available in the USGS ScienceBase repository, (


Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not constitute endorsement by the US Government.

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Kunz, B.K., Little, E.E. & Barandino, V.L. Aquatic Toxicity of Chemical Road Dust Suppressants to Freshwater Organisms. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol (2021).

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