Introduction

Ecological toxicology, ecotoxicology, is the study of relationships between organisms and environmental contaminants in order to predict biological consequences. The adverse response of organisms to environmental contaminants requires an understanding of exposure processes and contaminant dose. The bioavailability concept originates from the fact that the detrimental effects in exposed organisms and ecosystems are not caused by the total amount of chemical released to the environment, but rather only a certain fraction, the bioavailable fraction. Bioavailability is not an intrinsic property of the contaminant; rather bioavailability reflects the response of a biological system to many contaminant-integrated processes. The bioavailable fraction is characterized only under a defined set of conditions and depends on the physical-chemical characteristics of the contaminant. For example, organic chemicals and metals are different classes of contaminants with unique bioavailability properties, influenced differently by many environmental parameters. Understanding bioavailability allows one to reduce the uncertainty in predicting toxicity of environmental contaminants. The bioavailability of contaminants is therefore important to understand, both to ensure protection of ecosystems and to effectively implement remediation strategies.

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