Human hepatoma cells exposed to estuarine sediment contaminant extracts permitted the differentiation between cytotoxic and pro-mutagenic fractions
Complex toxicant mixtures present in estuarine sediments often render contaminant screening unfeasible and compromise determining causation. HepG2 cells were subjected to bioassays with sediment extracts obtained with a series of progressively polar solvents plus a crude extract. The sediments were collected from an impacted area of an estuary otherwise regarded as pristine, whose stressors result mostly from aquaculture effluents and hydrodynamic shifts that enhance particle deposition. Compared to a reference scenario, the most polar extracts yielded highest cytotoxicity while higher genotoxicity (including oxidative damage) was elicited by non-polar solvents. While the former caused effects similar to those expected from biocides, the latter triggered effects compatible with known pro-mutagens like PAHs, even though the overall levels of toxicants were considered of low risk. The results indicate that the approach may constitute an effective line-of-evidence to infer on the predominant set of hazardous contaminants present in complex environmental mixtures.