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Environ Toxicol Chem. 2003 Nov;22(11):2622-9.

Quantification of steroid hormones with pheromonal properties in municipal wastewater effluent.

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Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, 631 Davis Hall, University of California-Berkeley, Berkeley, California 94720, USA.


Many fish use steroid hormones as pheromones to initiate behavioral and physiological changes during spawning. To assess the occurrence of steroid hormones with pheromonal properties in the aquatic environment and to evaluate the possibility that municipal wastewater discharges contain compounds that could affect fish reproduction by interfering with pheromones, several estrogens, androgens, and progestins were quantified by gas chromatography/tandem mass spectroscopy in effluent samples from 12 municipal wastewater treatment plants. Samples also were analyzed from an engineered treatment wetland, three groundwater wells, and one reservoir. Estrogens (17beta-estradiol and estrone) were detected in wastewater effluent at maximum concentrations of 4 and 12 ng/L, respectively. Androgens (testosterone and androstenedione) were detected at concentrations as high as 6.1 and 4.5 ng/L, respectively, whereas the synthetic progestin medroxyprogesterone was detected at concentrations up to 15 ng/L. Data from an effluent-receiving engineered treatment wetland and shallow groundwater wells suggested that these compounds were not rapidly attenuated. The measured concentrations of steroids often exceeded olfactory detection thresholds at which fish detect these steroids, and in several cases, the steroid concentrations were comparable to levels at which pheromonal responses have been observed in fish.

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