Ecotoxicology aims to clarify the toxic characteristics of chemicals, hazardous materials and complex mixtures on wildlife and ecosystems. Ecotoxicological testing deals with the determination of toxicity of chemicals towards different organism in the environment. The tests are normally short term (acute) or long term (chronic) laboratory tests and endpoints typically include mortality, growth, reproduction, or changes in behavior. Results are used to rank toxic chemicals and together with information on fate and occurrence in the environment they are used to assess the environmental risk of the chemicals and their potential to harm sensitive species and ecosystems.
Thousands of different chemicals are used in daily life in households, industries and farming. For the majority of these knowledge about their effects and fate characteristics is very limited or simply non-existing. The introduction of the new EU chemical law REACH will force producer and importers of chemicals to have their products tested before they can be marketed. Results from standardized ecotoxicological tests on aquatic organisms (e.g. fish, daphnids and algae) are mandatory for all chemicals and for chemicals with high production volume, more tests are needed, including tests with terrestrial species. Together with information on abiotic and biological degradability, potential accumulation and physical-chemical characteristics of the chemicals, data from ecotoxicological tests form the base on which chemicals are classified and labeled.
Tests used to classify chemicals are laboratory tests and there is a big gap between what is going on in the laboratory and in natural systems, e.g. in agricultural fields or in lakes. Consequently, there is a great need for research regarding methods that better reflect the real world situation.