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    Surfactants are a class of chemicals released in large quantities to water, and therefore bioconcentration in fish is an important component of their safety assessment. Their structural diversity, which encompasses nonionic, anionic, cationic and zwitterionic molecules with a broad range of lipophilicity, makes their evaluation challenging. A strong influence of environmental pH adds a further layer of complexity to their bioconcentration assessment. Here we present a framework that penetrates this complexity. Using simple equations derived from current understanding of the relevant underlying processes, we plot the key bioconcentration parameters (uptake rate constant, elimination rate constant and bioconcentration factor) as a function of its membrane lipid/water distribution ratio and the neutral fraction of the chemical in water at pH 8.1 and at pH 6.1. On this chemical space plot, we indicate boundaries at which four resistance terms (perfusion with water, transcellular, paracellular, and perfusion with blood) limit transport of surfactants across the gills. We then show that the bioconcentration parameters predicted by this framework align well with in vivo measurements of anionic, cationic and nonionic surfactants in fish. In doing so, we demonstrate how the framework can be used to explore expected differences in bioconcentration behavior within a given sub-class of surfactants, to assess how pH will influence bioconcentration, to identify the underlying processes governing bioconcentration of a particular surfactant, and to discover knowledge gaps that require further research. This framework for amphiphilic chemicals may function as a template for improved understanding of the accumulation potential of other ionizable chemicals of environmental concern, such as pharmaceuticals or dyes.


    Michael S McLachlan, Andrea Ebert, James M Armitage, Jon A Arnot, Steven T J Droge. A framework for understanding the bioconcentration of surfactants in fish. Environmental science. Processes & impacts. 2023 Jul 19;25(7):1238-1251

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    PMID: 37350243

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