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Environmental fate & pathways

Bioaccumulation: terrestrial

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Description of key information

There is a considerable amount of copper accumulation data available. The data demonstrate an inverse relation between the copper bioaccumulation from soil and the copper concentrations in the soil. The information demonstrates that copper is well regulated in all living organisms and that theBCFand BAF values have no meaning for a hazard assessment. The data also demonstrate that copper is not biomagnified in the terrestrial ecosystems and that there is no issue for secondary poisoning of copper.

Key value for chemical safety assessment

Additional information

Terrestrial BCFand BAF

As for the aquatic environment, homeostatic regulation of copper (and other metals) is also relevant to soil organisms.

Inverse relationship between copper soilBCF(concentrations in plants/ concentrations in soils) and copper concentrations in the soils were observed by

-       Abrahams and Thornton, 1994 for pasture herbage

-       Ginocchio et al (2002) for lettuce, tomato and onions and by Tambasco et al (2000) for lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

Inverse relationship between copper soil BAF (concentrations in invertebrates/ concentrations in soils) and copper concentrations in the soils were observed by

-       Janssen et al, 1997 forEisenia Andrei

-       Heikens et al (2001) for different invertebrate species, collected in the field data

-       Svendsen and Weeks (1997) forLumbricus sp.

-       Sample et al. (1999), who developed a database of Cu concentrations in soil and earthworm tissue.

-       Wong and Cheung, 1986 demonstrated that Caterpillars of the white butterfly (Pieris conidia) ingesting large amounts of plant leaf material, do not concentrate metals. Lower Cu contents are found in the organism than in the plant material (BCFof 0.1 to 0.3).

The section further includes some supporting data of relevance to secondary poisoning

- Chaney et al, 1983 introduced the term “Soil-Plant Barrier” for describing the mechanisms behind reduced plant uptake. A “Soil-Plant Barrier” protects the food chain from toxicity of a microelement when one or more of abiotic or biotic processes limit maximum levels of that element in edible plant tissues to levels safe for animals: 1) insolubility of the element in soil prevents uptake; 2) immobility of an element in fibrous roots prevents translocation to edible plant tissues; or 3) phytotoxicity of the element occurs at concentrations of the element in edible plant tissues below that injurious to animals. 

-       Smit et al (2000) assessed the secondary poisoning for copper and calculated an average BAF of 0.09 for earthworms based on an extensive Dutch database (170 data points) – they concluded that for copper it was not necessary to integrate secondary poisoning aspects into the copper aquatic quality criteria.

Biomagnification factor (BMF)

Lakowski (1991) explored the pattern of biomagnification of Cu in the terrestrial invertebrates food web. Based on 37 biomagnification factors representing herbivores, carnivores and detrivores, the slope of the linear regression was less than one suggesting regulation of Cu concentration.

Hunter and Johnson (1982) examined the food chain transfer of Cu and Cd in contaminated grassland around a refinery. Metal movement between producers, herbivores and carnivore trophic levels was examined with an emphasis on the small mammal components of the food web. Animal: diet ratios decreased with increasing soil concentrations and were all smaller than 0.2. This illustrates the degree of homeostatic regulation exercised by mammalian systems over body tissue retention of ingested Cu.

On the basis of a literature review, Heikens et al (2001) compared Cu accumulation between different invertebrate species. Metal body concentrations were highest in Isopoda and lowest in Coleoptera. Differences in metal accumulation between taxonomic groups were ascribed to differences in metal kinetics, regulation mechanism and the exposure route. Terrestrial Isopoda are detrivores who live on litter and feed on organic matter. On the other hand Coleoptera are either herbivores or carnivores and have less intensive contact with litter.   

Wittassek (1987) came to a similar conclusion when studying the uptake of Cu in vineyard soil organisms adapted to 60 years of continuous use of Cu sulphate fungicides. Slugs, Isopods and Diplopods (detrivores) showed the highest accumulation of Cu. Chilopoda and spiders, as predators, had high Cu concentrations only when their prey concentrations were high (they did not bioaccumulate).