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Environ Sci Technol. 2009 May 15;43(10):3612-8.

Fate of conjugated natural and synthetic steroid estrogens in crude sewage and activated sludge batch studies.

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  • 1Department of Earth Science and Engineering, Imperial College London, South Kensington, London SW7 2AZ, UK. rachel.gomes00@imperial.ac.uk


Steroids are excreted from the human body in the conjugated form but are present in sewage influent and effluent as the free steroid, the major source of estrogenic activity observed in water courses. The fate of sulfate and glucuronide conjugated steroid estrogens was investigated in batch studies using activated sludge grown on synthetic sewage in a laboratory-scale Husmann simulation and crude sewage from the field. A clear distinction between the fate of sulfate and glucuronide conjugates was observed in both matrices, with sulfated conjugates proving more recalcitrant and glucuronide deconjugation preferential in crude sewage. For each conjugate, the free steroid was observed in the biotic samples. The degree of free steroid formation was dependent on the conjugate moiety, favoring the glucuronide. Subsequent degradation of the free steroid (and sorption to the activated sludge solid phase) was evaluated. Deconjugation followed the first order reaction rate with rate constants for 17alpha-ethinylestradiol 3-glucuronide, estriol l6alpha-glucuronide, and estrone 3-glucuronide determined as 0.32, 0.24, and 0.35 h respectively. The activated sludge solid retention time over the range of 3-9 days had 74 to 94% of sulfate conjugates remaining after 8 h. In contrast, a correlation between increasing temperature and decreasing 17alpha-ethinylestradiol 3-glucuronide concentrations in the activated sludge observed no conjugate present in the AS following 8 h at 22 degrees C Based on these batch studies and literature excretion profiles, a hypothesis is presented on which steroids and what form (glucuronide, sulfate, or free) will likely enter the sewage treatment plant.

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