In vitro bioassays are increasingly used for water quality monitoring. Surface water samples often need to be enriched to observe an effect and solid-phase extraction (SPE) is commonly applied for this purpose. The applied methods are typically optimised for the recovery of target chemicals and not for effect recovery for bioassays. A review of the few studies that have evaluated SPE recovery for bioassays showed a lack of experimentally determined recoveries. Therefore, we systematically measured effect recovery of a mixture of 579 organic chemicals covering a wide range of physicochemical properties that were spiked into a pristine water sample and extracted using large volume solid-phase extraction (LVSPE). Assays indicative of activation of xenobiotic metabolism, hormone receptor-mediated effects and adaptive stress responses were applied, with non-specific effects determined through cytotoxicity measurements. Overall, effect recovery was found to be similar to chemical recovery for the majority of bioassays and LVSPE blanks had no effect. Multi-layer SPE exhibited greater recovery of spiked chemicals compared to LVSPE, but the blanks triggered cytotoxicity at high enrichment. Chemical recovery data together with single chemical effect data were used to retrospectively estimate with reverse recovery modelling that there was typically less than 30% effect loss expected due to reduced SPE recovery in published surface water monitoring studies. The combination of targeted experiments and mixture modelling clearly shows the utility of SPE as a sample preparation method for surface water samples, but also emphasizes the need for adequate controls when extraction methods are adapted from chemical analysis workflows.

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