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Freshwater Aquatic Life Standards for Aluminum

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has established new water quality criteria for aluminum to protect aquatic life in Oregon. Aluminum is present in the environment naturally in most rocks and is associated with many clays, soils and sediments. Human activities such as fossil fuel combustion, aluminum production, and the use of fertilizers in agriculture can also release aluminum into the environment.

EPA published the new aluminum rule and preamble in the federal register on March 19, 2021 (see below). The federal criteria became effective in Oregon for Clean Water Act purposes on April 19, 2021.

In 2004, Oregon adopted aquatic life criteria for aluminum based on EPA's 1988 national recommended criteria. In 2013, EPA disapproved the aluminum criteria submission from the state. Since that time, EPA has updated its national recommended criteria. As a result of litigation, EPA was required to establish new aluminum criteria in Oregon by Dec. 31, 2020.

The EPA's aluminum criteria for Oregon are based on EPA's 2018 final Clean Water Act section 304(a) national recommended freshwater aquatic life criteria for aluminum (see the link to EPA's criteria document below). The aluminum criteria values can be calculated using EPA's Aluminum Criteria Calculator. The calculator derives instantaneous aluminum criteria values, which change based on water chemistry, including pH, dissolved organic carbon and total hardness levels. These parameters affect aluminum toxicity because they change aluminum bioavailability. Bioavailability describes whether a chemical form is accessible to an organism. For example, aluminum is more bioavailable to aquatic organisms when it is dissolved in the water than when it is bound within rocks. Input parameters (pH, dissolved organic carbon, and total hardness) are entered into the Aluminum Criteria Calculator to determine the instantaneous criteria values for a given set of water chemistry conditions. The aluminum criteria values are the output of the Aluminum Criteria Calculator.

Rule language

Aluminum standard application

Aluminum bioavailability and toxicity are affected by pH, dissolved organic carbon, and total hardness. DEQ has developed procedures to apply the aluminum standard in its water quality programs using the Aluminum Criteria Calculator. These procedures and a supporting analyses document can be found below. The calculator can be downloaded in either the excel format or R code and data format below. 

Background documents


James McConaghie
Water Quality Standard Program Coordinator