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Environmental Health - Toxic Substances



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Bioaccumulation – “The biological sequestering of a substance at a higher concentration than that at which it occurs in the surrounding environment or medium.” - U.S. Geological Survey, 2007

Bioaccumulation – “Bioaccumulation (or bioconcentration) is the uptake of organic compounds by biota from either water or food. Many toxic organic chemicals attain concentrations in biota several orders of magnitude greater than their aqueous concentrations, and therefore, bioaccumulation poses a serious threat to both the biota of surface waters and the humans that feed on these surface-water species.” – Smith and others, 1988

Bioaccumulation – “General term describing a process by which chemicals are taken up by an organism either directly from exposure to a contaminated medium or by consumption of food containing the chemical.” – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2010

Bioaccumulation – “Bioaccumulation is defined as the accumulation of chemicals in the tissue of organisms through any route, including respiration, ingestion, or direct contact with contaminated water, sediment, and pore water in the sediment.” – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2000

Bioaccumulation – “Progressive increase in the amount of a substance in an organism or part of an organism which occurs because the rate of intake exceeds the organism’s ability to remove the substance from the body.” – International Union of Pure And Applied Chemistry, 1993

Related Definitions

Bioaccumulation Factor (BAF) – “The ratio of the contaminant in an organism to the concentration in the ambient environment at a steady state, where the organism can take in the contaminant through ingestion with its food as well as through direct content.” – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2010

Bioaccumulation Factor (BAF) – “The bioaccumulation factor (also called the BAF) is analogous to the BCF [bioconcentration factor], but applies to field measurements or to laboratory measurements with multiple exposure routes. The BAF is the ratio of contaminant concentration measured in biota in the field (or under multiple exposure conditions) to the concentration measured in the surrounding water.” – Nowell and others, 1999

Bioconcentration Factor (BCF) – “A major concern for environmental contamination is the extent to which pollutants concentrate from water into aquatic organisms such as fish. The extent of such concentration, termed the bioconcentration factor (BCF), is given by the ratio of the pollutant concentration in fish to that in water.” – Chiou, 2002



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USGS Information on Bioaccumulation

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More Information on Bioaccumulation


Chiou, C.T., 2002, Bioconcentration of organic contaminants, in Partition and Adsorption of Organic Contaminants in Environmental Systems: Hoboken, NJ, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., p. 257.

International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, 1993, Glossary for chemists of terms used in toxicology: Pure and Applied Chemistry, v. 65, no. 9, p. 2003-2122.

Nowell, L.H., Capel, P.D., and Dileanis, P.D., 1999, Pesticides in stream sediment and aquatic biota--Distribution, trends, and governing factors: Boca Raton, Fla., Lewis Publishers, 1001 p.

Smith, J.A., Witkowski, P.J., and Fusillo, T.V., 1988, Manmade organic compounds in the surface waters of the United States--A review of current understanding: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1007, 92 p.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2000, Bioaccumulation testing and interpretation for the purpose of sediment quality assesment: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, access date June 29, 2010.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2010, Solid waste and emergency response glossary--Bioaccumulation: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, access date June 29, 2010.

U.S. Geological Survey, 2007, Glossary--Bioaccumulation: U.S. Geological Survey, access date June 29, 2010.


Disclaimer: The definitions on this page are provided for information purposes only, and do not indicate endorment by the U.S. Geological Survey.

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