Effects of advanced treatments of wastewater effluents on estrogenic and reproductive health impacts in fish

Amy L Filby, Janice A Shears, Briane E Drage, John H Churchley, Charles R Tyler
Environmental Science & Technology 2010 June 1, 44 (11): 4348-54
Whether the implementation of additional treatments for the removal of estrogens from wastewater treatment works (WwTWs) effluents will eliminate their feminizing effects in exposed wildlife has yet to be established, and this information is crucial for future decisions on investment into WwTWs. Here, granular activated carbon (GAC), ozone (O(3)), and chlorine dioxide (ClO(2)) were investigated for their effectiveness in reducing steroidal estrogen levels in a WwTW effluent and assessments made on the associated estrogenic and reproductive responses in fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) exposed for 21 days. All treatments reduced the estrogenicity of the standard-treated (STD) effluent, but with different efficacies; ranging between 70-100% for total estrogenicity and 53-100% for individual steroid estrogens. In fish exposed to the GAC- and ClO(2)- (but not O(3)-) treated effluents, there was no induction of plasma vitellogenin (VTG) or reduction in the weight of the fatpad, a secondary sex character in males, as occurred for fish exposed to STD effluent. This finding suggests likely benefits of employing these treatment processes for the reproductive health in wild fish populations living in rivers receiving WwTW discharges. Exposure of pair-breeding minnows to the GAC-treated effluent, however, resulted in a similar inhibition of egg production to that occurring for exposure to the STD effluent (34-40%). These data, together with a lack of effect on egg production of the estrogen, ethinylestradiol (10 ng/L), alone, suggest that chemical/physical properties of the effluents rather than their estrogenicity were responsible for the reproductive effect and that these factor(s) were not remediated for through GAC treatment. Collectively, our findings illustrate the importance of assessing integrative biological responses, rather than biomarkers alone, in the assessment and improvement of WwTW technologies for the protection of wild fish populations.

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