What is Aquatic Toxicity / Bioassay Testing?

A bioassay is a test that measures the potency of a substance by comparing its effect on living tissue against a control group. Aquatic Toxicity testing is a type of bioassay where aquatic species are used as the testing organisms. Test organisms are exposed to samples (industrial and wastewater effluents) and data such as organism survival, growth and reproduction are measured and compared to a control group (which is usually laboratory water or the client’s receiving water). Statistical analysis is used to determine if the samples had a negative health impact on the organism compared to the standard performance of the control group. This can show potential negative impacts of effluents on organisms in receiving waters.   

“Acute” testing refers to a shorter test duration, typically 48 – 96 hours, where only organism survival is measured. “Chronic” testing refers to a longer test duration, typically 6-8 days, where sublethal effects such as growth and reproduction can be measured.

How do I get the samples to the NEB Laboratory?
  • We have drivers that are able to pick-up samples in most areas of New England
  • We can arrange to have samples shipped in a cooler with FedEx or UPS
  • Clients are welcome to drop off their samples at our lab during business hours, and can even arrange for after hours drop off if necessary.
What are the laboratory’s hours of operation?

The NEB laboratory is open Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It is preferred that samples be dropped off during these business hours however after-hours drop off may be arranged by contacting the lab. While our staff does monitor tests already in progress over the weekend, new tests are not set-up on Saturday or Sunday. Please contact the Laboratory Director to discuss availability if you require a weekend set-up.  

What sample container do I use?

NEB will provide plastic, unpreserved cube containers (cubitainers) to clients for no additional charge.

What volume of sample is required?

This can vary greatly depending on the type of toxicity testing being performed and the number of species being tested. NEB uses 1 liter, 1 gallon, 2.5 gallon and 5 gallon sized cubitainers.  

Test TypeEffluent VolumeReceiving Water Volume
2 species freshwater chronicSample #1: 2.5 gallon
Sample #2: 2.5 gallon
Sample #3:  5 gallons
Sample #1:  5 gallons
Sample #2:  5 gallons
Sample #3:  7.5 gallons
2 species saltwater chronicSample #1: 5 gallons
Sample #2:  5 gallons
Sample #3: 7.5 gallons
Sample #1: 10 gallons
Sample #2:  10 gallons
Sample #3:  15 gallons
Ceriodaphnia only chronicSample #1: 2.5 gallon
Sample #2: 1 gallon
Sample #3:  1 gallon
Sample #1: 2.5 gallon
Sample #2: 1 gallon
Sample #3:  2.5 gallon
2 species freshwater acute 2.5 gallons2.5 gallons
2 species saltwater acute 2.5 gallons5 gallons
2 species freshwater pass/fail acute1 gallonN/A
2 species saltwater pass/fail acute2.5 gallonsN/A
Connecticut D.pulex Stormwater acute1 literN/A

Please note this is a general guideline. Additional permit required testing concentrations or chemical analysis can increase these volumes. Please call the lab ahead of sampling to discuss your specific testing and we can tell you your volume requirements.

What is the holding time for toxicity testing?

In most cases, testing must be initiated within 24 to 36 hours of sampling. It is important that tests are scheduled with the lab in advance so that we can help ensure the applicable holding times are met.

Do I need to preserve samples?

Thermal preservative is required for aquatic toxicity samples. Samples must be kept cold from the time of collection until delivered at the laboratory. Samples should be no warmer than 6 degrees Celsius when received at the lab.

Does NEB perform chemical analysis associated with aquatic toxicity testing?

Many permits require a suite of chemical analysis be run on the effluent samples in conjunction with the aquatic toxicity test. New England Bioassay does not perform analytical chemistry. However, we work with many local analytical laboratories and can subcontract this analysis for you. We are able to fill the chemistry bottles at our lab and transport them to the analytical laboratory, saving you from any additional steps.  

Is the lab certified?

Listed below are all of the current certifications that the New England Bioassay holds. Many states do not currently have a certification program for aquatic toxicity testing. If you have questions about certification in your state please contact us.

You can download our current certifications at these links:

When will I receive my results / report?

In most cases, the standard turn around time for reports is 10 days after test completion. Rushed reports can be performed for an additional fee.

What if my sample fails?

If a sample fails to meet compliance criteria, NEB has the expertise to help guide our clients in determining the cause of the failure. A comparison of the chemistry analysis for previous samples which were in compliance with those which were not is often a helpful first step. Clients can also compare their water quality results to the EPA’s Recommended Water Quality Criteria for Aquatic Life.

NEB also suggests closely looking into all potential avenues for introducing new toxins, including changes in cleaning supplies or chemicals used on site. Depending on the state and permit, clients may have to run a retest.

 If necessary NEB is capable of performing Toxicity Identification Evaluation (TIE) testing.