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Environmental Health - Toxic Substances



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Bioconcentration - "A process leading to a higher concentration of a substance in an organism than in environmental media to which it is exposed (after WHO, 1979)." - International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, 1993

Bioconcentration – “Bioconcentration is the process of accumulation of water-borne chemicals by fish and other aquatic animals through non-dietary routes.” – Barron, 1990

Bioconcentration – “The accumulation of a chemical in the tissues of an organism as a result of direct exposure to the surrounding medium (e.g., water; i.e., it does not include food web transfer).” – MacDonald and Ingersoll, 2002

Bioconcentration – “The major experimental distinction [between bioconcentration and bioaccumulation] is that bioconcentration experiments are run such that no dietary intake is involved, while bioaccumulation experiments include contributions from both direct partitioning and dietary intake.” –Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, 1987

Bioconcentration – “In fish, bioconcentration (partitioning) processes may predominate for some contaminants (Ellgehausen and others, 1980; Bruggeman and others, 1981). The relative importance of uptake via food or water depends on the conditions of exposure, duration, dose level, and the individual fish (Huckle and Millburn, 1990).” – Nowell and others, 1999

Related Definitions

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 the water.” – Chiou, 2002

Bioconcentration Factor (BCF) – “The bioconcentration factor (BCF) is defined as the ratio of a contaminant concentration in biota to its concentration in the surrounding medium (water). At long exposure times (equilibrium), the BCF also equals the ratio of the uptake constant (Mackay, 1982).” – Nowell and others, 1999

Bioconcentration Factor (BCF) – “Measure of the tendency for a substance in water to accumulate in fish tissue or in tissues of other organisms. The equilibrium concentration for a substance in fish can be estimated by multiplying the concentration of the substance in the surrounding water by the fish bioconcentration factor for that chemical. This parameter is an important determinant for human intake by the aquatic food ingestion route (after USEPA, 1986).” – International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, 1993



Food Web

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USGS Information on Bioconcentration

Related Science Feature Articles

More Information on Bioconcentration


Barron, M.G., 1990, Bioconcentration--Will water-borne organic chemicals accumulate in aquatic animals?: Environmental Science & Technology, v. 24, no. 11, p. 1612-1618, doi:10.1021/es00081a001.

Bruggeman, W.A., Martron, L.B.J.M., Kooiman, D., and Hutzinger, O., 1981, Accumulation and elimination kinetics of di-, tri-, and tetra-chlorobiphenyls by goldfish after dietary and aqueous exposure: Chemosphere, v. 10, no. 8, pp. 811-832, doi:10.1016/0045-6535(81)90082-5.

Brungs, W.A., and Mount, D.I., 1978, Introduction to a discussion of the use of toxicity tests for evaluation of the effects of toxic substances, in Cairns, J., Jr., Dickson, K.L., and Maki, A.W., eds., Estimating the hazard of chemical substances to aquatic life: American Society for Testing and Materials, Philadelphia, Penn., Special Technical Publication series, v. 657, pp. 15-26.

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.

Ellgehausen, H., Guth, J.A., and Esser, H.O., 1980, Factors determining the bioaccumulation potential of pesticides in the individual compartments of aquatic food chains: Ecotoxicol. Environ. Safety, v. 4, no. 2, pp. 134-157, doi:10.1016/0147-6513(80)90015-9.

Huckle, K.R., and Millburn, P., 1990, Metabolism, bioconcentration, and toxicity of pesticides in fish, in Hutson, D.H., and Roberts, T.R., eds., Environmental fate of pesticides: Wiley, Chichester, England, Progress in Pesticide Biochemistry and Toxicology series, v. 7, pp. 175-243.

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.

MacDonald, D.D., and Ingersoll, C.G., 2002, A guidance manual to support the assessment of contaminated sediments in freshwater ecosystems--Volume I, An ecosystem-based framework for assessing and managing contaminated sediments: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA-905-B02-001-A, 149 p.

Mackay, D., 1982, Correlation of bioconcentration factors: Environ. Sci. Technol., v. 16, no. 5, pp. 274-278, doi:10.1021/es00099a008.

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.

Seiber, J.N., 1987, Solubility, partition coefficient, and bioconcentration factor, in Biggar, J.W., and Seinber, J.N., eds., Fate of pesticides in the environment--Proceedings of a technical seminar: Oakland, Calif., Agricultural Experiment Station, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California, p. 157.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1986, Superfund public health evaluation manual: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency EPA/5401/1-86/060, Washington, D.C.

World Health Organization, 1979, Agreed terms on health effects evaluation and risk and hazard assessment of environmental agents, Internal Report of a Working Group, (EHE, EHC/79.19), World Health Organization, Geneva.


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