Marine and freshwater mesocosm-scale experiments with contaminated sediments have shown that there is a direct relationship between the accumulated contaminant levels and the feeding habits of the organisms used. The highest levels of PAHs and PCBs were found in the sediment feeding lugworm Arenicola marina and in Tubifex worms. The levels of contaminants in the suspension feeding mussels Mytilus edulis and the zebra mussels, Dreissena polymorpha, were not influenced by the contaminant content of the sediments, but were related instead to the level of contaminants in the sea water above. Intermediate levels were found in the baltic tellin, Macoma balthica, which is a filter feeder as well as a deposit feeder, depending on the availability of food.

These results show that there is no simple relationship between contaminant concentration in the sediments and bioavailability. Higher levels of contaminants do not necessarily lead to higher levels of these contaminants in Arenicola, due to differences in the sediment structure and the ageing of the contamination. On the other hand, toxic effects are related to the internal concentrations of certain chemicals. The internal concentrations observed in Arenicola may provide a good estimation of the true bioavailability of sedimentary contaminants and can also be used as an indicator for potential environmental effects.

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