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Environ Sci Technol. 2001 Dec 15;35(24):4697-703.

Removal of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in activated sludge treatment works.

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Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, UK.


The release of endocrine-disrupting chemicals into the aquatic environment has raised the awareness of the central role played by sewage treatment in lowland water quality. This review focuses on the activated sludge process, which is commonly used to treat sewage in large towns and cities and which successfully removes the bulk of the organic compounds that enter the works. However, not all compounds are completely broken down or converted to biomass. For example, the estrogenic alkylphenols and steroid estrogens found in effluent are the breakdown products of incomplete breakdown of their respective parent compounds. Batch microcosm studies have indicated that estrone, ethinylestradiol, and alkylphenols will not be completely eliminated in activated sludge over typical treatment times. Field data suggest that the activated sludge treatment process can consistently remove over 85% of estradiol, estriol, and ethinylestradiol. The removal performance for estrone appears to be less and is more variable. Because of its relatively high hydrophobicity, the accumulation of alkylphenol in sludge has been observed. Although it has not been examined, accumulation of ethinylestradiol in sludge is a possibility due to its recalcitrance and hydrophobicity. A comparison between the concentrations of some of the major endocrine-active chemicals in effluents and their biological potencies has been made, to direct attention to the chemicals of most concern. While water purification techniques such as UV or activated charcoal could significantly remove these microorganic contaminants, the high costs involved suggest that research into the potential for treatment optimization should receive more attention.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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