Observations on the estrogenic activity and concentration of 17beta-estradiol in the discharges of 12 wastewater treatment plants in southern australia

C Mispagel, G Allinson, M Allinson, F Shiraishi, M Nishikawa, M R Moore
Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 2009, 56 (4): 631-7
There is very little information on the overall level of estrogenic activity, or concentrations of specific hormonal compounds in wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) discharges in Australia, compared with Europe, Japan, and North America. To partly address this, in 2004, water samples were collected as "grab" or "spot" samples from 12 WWTP facilities across southern Victoria at the point at which effluent enters the environment, either as recycled water or direct discharge to the receiving water. The WWTPs were of a variety of treatment types and served a diverse range of rural and regional municipalities. For instance, of the 12 WWTPs, 3 served municipalities with populations greater than 100,000, 4 with populations between 20,000 and 100,000, and 5 with populations less than 5,000. The principal treatment process in six was an activated sludge system, and three were trickle-filter-based systems. The remaining plants fall into a "miscellaneous" category, each plant having a mixture of treatment processes within the overall systems. The estrogenic activity and 17beta-estradiol concentrations of the samples were assessed using a yeast-based, in vitro reporter gene assay and enzyme-linked immunosorbant assays, respectively. Most of the effluents showed estrogenic activity in the assays (hER, no response: 7.9 ng/L EEQ; mER, no response: 44.5 ng/L EEQ). There was no correlation between estrogenic response and the results of a concurrent toxicity assay, suggesting that a lack of bioassay response was related to lack of estrogenic compounds, rather than the direct toxic effect of the sample. Estradiol concentrations were for the most part in the range 2-5 ng/L, with one sample at 18 ng/L. Despite the assurance our results might provide (of minimal impact in most cases if there is significant dilution), there is still a need for further extensive on-ground reassurance research to provide data for higher-level risk assessment by industry and government agencies. In particular, more research is warranted to verify the estrogenic activity and to expand the range of specific hormone/metabolites reported in these studies. Moreover, studies are required to determine if the estrogenic activity reported in this and other recent Australian studies is sufficient to induce a physiological effect in exposed aquatic organisms, especially Australian native fish.

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