The Water Framework Directive (WFD) aims to monitor continental water bodies in Europe to achieve good ecological status. Indexes based on biological quality elements (BQEs), ecotoxicological tests, and chemical characterizations are commonly used with standardized protocols to assess sediment quality and the associated risks. Here, we compare the results of quality assessment of benthic macroinvertebrates as BQEs as required by the WFD with the results of ecotoxicological tests and assessment of selected persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in sediments of the same eight water bodies in Italy. The aim was to verify if the assessment of quality through macroinvertebrates through POPs analyses and ecotoxicological tools can yield comparable, overlapping, or complementary results. We used the Benthic Quality Index (BQIES) for macroinvertebrates (two different applications), legacy POPs (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane and metabolites (DDTs) and polychlorinated-biphenyls (PCBs)), and the emergence ratio (ER) and development rate (DR) for ecotoxicology. The results showed that the two indices within each approach were highly correlated, but between approaches, each result can lead to a completely different scenario, with rather different results of the assessment of ecosystem quality. The most striking result was that very few significant correlations existed between sediment quality assessment through macroinvertebrates and the risk assessment through analyses of micropollutants and ecotoxicological tests. The highest absolute r-value (0.81) was for the correlation between the BQIESbottom
index and PCBs for micropollutants, whereas all other pairwise comparisons between indices had r-values ranging between 0.07 and 0.53. Our analysis calls for a caveat in the blind application of one or only a few indices of water/sediment quality, as the results of a single index may not represent the complexity of a freshwater ecosystem.
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