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Juvenile rainbow trout were exposed to zinc in both moderately hard water (hardness 5 120 mg CaCO3/L, pH = 8.0, Zn = 150 μg/L or 450 μg/L) and soft water (hardness = 20 mg CaCO3/L, pH = 7.2, Zn = 50 μg/L or 120 μg/L) for 30 d. Only the 450 mg/L zinc–exposed fish experienced significant mortality (24% in the first 2 d). Zinc exposure caused no effect on growth rate, but growth affected tissue zinc levels. Whole body zinc levels were elevated, but gills and liver showed no consistent increases relative to controls over the 30-d. Therefore, tissue zinc residues were not a good indicator of chronic zinc exposure. After the 30-d exposure, physiological function tests were performed. Zinc was 5.4 times more toxic in soft water (control 96 h LC50s in hard and soft water were 869 μg/L and 162 μg/L, respectively). All zinc-exposed trout had acclimated to the metal, as seen by an increase in the LC50 of 2.2 to 3.9 times over that seen in control fish. Physiological costs related to acclimation appeared to be few. Zinc exposure had no effect on whole body Ca2+ or Na+ levels, on resting or routine metabolic rates, or on fixed velocity sprint performance. However, critical swimming speed (UCrit) was significantly reduced in zinc-exposed fish, an effect that persisted in zinc-free water. Using radioisotopic techniques to distinguish new zinc incorporation, the gills were found to possess two zinc pools: a fast turnover pool (T1/2 = 3–4 h) and a slow turnover pool (T1/2 = days to months). The fast pool was much larger in soft water than in hard water, but at most it accounted for <3.5% of the zinc content of the gills. The size of the slow pool was unknown, but its loading rate was faster in soft water. Chronic zinc exposure was found to increase the size of the fast pool and to increase the loading rate of the slow pool.


This article was originally published in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 18(5): 1014-1025. © 1999 Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry