A decade of research on the environmental impacts of pulp and paper mill effluents in Canada: sources and characteristics of bioactive substances

L Mark Hewitt, Joanne L Parrott, Mark E McMaster
Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. Part B, Critical Reviews 2006, 9 (4): 341-56
This article is a review of research efforts over the last decade on the sources and characteristics of substances in Canadian pulp mill effluents associated with two responses in fish: (1) induction of detoxification enzymes and (2) reproductive effects. The initial uncertainty regarding the role of chlorine bleaching and dioxins in these responses was resolved by the mid 1990s, when it was determined that effects were not correlated with effluent adsorbable organic halogen (AOX) levels and that releases of dioxins had decreased substantially. In the mid 1990s researchers were able to partially attribute enzyme activity induction in fish to wood components, while other studies showed individual wood extractives had the potential to affect fish reproduction. A lack of correlation between threshold reproductive responses and effluent concentrations indicated additional unidentified compounds and mechanisms were involved. In the late 1990s, source identification approaches in concert with the development of mechanistically linked in vitro and in vivo bioassays showed multiple compounds are affecting production and signaling of sex steroids in fish. These substances are bioavailable and accumulated rapidly, consistent with the body of evidence that has shown a sustained exposure is required to produce both elevated enzyme activity and depressions in sex steroid levels. The patterns of these substances in effluents and fish tissues are not correlated with production type or effluent treatment. Collectively, these findings show that bioactive substances originate from wood and are derived from lignin and/or terpenoids, they are liberated during pulp digestion, and in kraft mills they are present in black liquor and chemical recovery condensates. Additional bioactive substances are also present in bleachery effluents containing residual lignin. The lack of a definitive identification of the responsible compounds has prevented an evaluation of the effectiveness of industry-wide process changes. Continued research into the identities, origins, and environmental fate of these substances and the efficacy of effluent treatment is required to determine their significance and relationship to the existing impacts of effluents from pulp and paper mills in Canadian aquatic ecosystems.

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