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We have tested the influence of water ionic strength on the toxicity of aluminium in fish by comparing the mortality of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) parr exposed to Al-rich water with additions of Ca2+ or Na+. The fish were exposed in parallel to Al-rich water (Al 500 μg l-1, pH 5.8) under non-steady state conditions, with and without the addition of one of the two base cations. The amount of Na+ and Ca2+ added to the water was calculated in order to obtain an identical increase in water ionic strength. Fish mortality was dependent on water residence time and whether or not base cations were added to the Al-rich water. In all Al-exposures, the highest mortality was always observed in fish exposed to water with the shortest residence time. Mortality decreased systematically with increasing water residence time through the exposure set-up. The addition of a base cation, Ca2+ or Na+, to the Al-rich water reduced fish mortality significantly compared to the Al-only exposures. Furthermore, increasing ionic strength with Na+ reduced mortality to a larger extent than the corresponding increase in ionic strength by the addition of Ca2+. The variation in mortality between the various aluminium and base cation treatments is discussed in terms of aluminium chemistry, specific mitigating effects of Ca2+ and Na+, and the general importance of water ionic strength. This study clearly demonstrates that Ca2+ does not play an unique role as an ameliorating cation for Al-toxicity in fish under non-steady state chemical conditions. Thus, ionic strength seems to be important, probably for the interaction between aluminium and the gill surface, reducing the possibility for positively charged aluminium species to bind to negatively charged sites.
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