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Sci Total Environ. 2009 Sep 15;407(19):5235-42. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2009.06.018. Epub 2009 Jul 16.

Comparison of six different sewage treatment processes--reduction of estrogenic substances and effects on gene expression in exposed male fish.

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Department of Neuroscience and Physiology, The Sahlgrenska Academy at University of Gothenburg, SE-405 30 Göteborg, Sweden.


Treated sewage effluents often contain a mixture of estrogenic compounds in low concentrations. The total combined activity of these, however, may be sufficiently high to affect the reproduction of aquatic vertebrates. The introduction of advanced treatment technologies has been suggested as a way to remove micro-contaminants, including estrogenic substances. In this study, one municipal influent was treated with six different processes in parallel on a semi-large scale in order to assess their potential to reduce substances that could contribute to estrogenic effects in male fish. The effluent from a conventional, activated sludge treatment line was compared to a similarly treated effluent with a final sand-filtering step. The addition of ozonation (15 g O(3)/m(3)), a moving bed biofilm reactor (MBBR) or both in combination was also evaluated. There was also a separate treatment line that was based on a membrane bioreactor. A small battery of hepatic estrogen-responsive genes was measured in the exposed fish using quantitative PCR. Concentrations of steroid estrogens and estrogenic phenols in the effluents were measured by GC-ECNI-MS. The ozonated effluents were the only tested effluents for which all measured biological effects in exposed fish were removed. Chemical data suggested that the MBBR technology was equally effective in removing the analyzed estrogens; however, elevated expression of estrogen-responsive genes suggested that some estrogenic substances were still present in the effluent. The membrane bioreactor removed most of the measured estrogens and it reduced the induction of the estrogen-responsive genes. However, fish exposed to this effluent had significantly enlarged livers. Given that the same influent was treated in parallel with a broad set of technologies and that the chemical analyses were combined with an in vivo assessment of estrogenic responses, this study provides valuable input into the assessment of advanced treatment processes for removing estrogenic substances.

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