Medlock Kakaley EK, Blackwell BR, Cardon MC, Conley JM, EvansN, Feifarek DJ, Furlong ET, Glassmeyer ST, Gray LE Jr, Hartiga PC, Kolpin DW, Mills MA, Rosenblum L, Villeneuve DL, Wilson VS. 2019. De facto water reuse: Bioassay suite approach delivers depth and breadth in endocrine active compound detection. Sci Tot Environ 699:134–297.
Although endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) have been detected in wastewater and surface waters worldwide using a variety of in vitro effects-based screening tools, e.g. bioassays, few have examined potential attenuation of environmental contaminants by both natural (sorption, degradation, etc) and anthropogenic (water treatment practices) processes. This study used several bioassays and quantitative chemical analyses to assess residence-time weighted samples at six sites along a river in the northeastern United States beginning upstream of a waste water treatment plant (WWTP) outfall and proceeding downstream along the stream reach to a drinking water treatment plant (DWTP). Known steroidal estrogens were quantified and changes in signaling pathway molecular initiating events (activation of estrogen, androgen, glucocorticoid, peroxisome proliferator-activated, pregnane X receptor, and aryl hydrocarbon receptor signaling networks) were identified in water extracts. In initial multi-endpoint assays geographic and receptor-specific endocrine activity patterns in transcription factor signatures and nuclear receptor activation were discovered. In subsequent single endpoint receptor-specific bioassays, estrogen (16 of 18 samples; 0.01 to 28 ng estradiol equivalents [E2Eqs]/L) glucocorticoid (3 of 18 samples; 1.8 to 21 ng dexamethasone equivalents [DexEqs]/L), and androgen (2 of 18 samples; 0.95 to 2.1 ng dihydrotestosterone equivalents [DHTEqs]/L) receptor transcriptional activation occurred above respective assay method detection limits (0.04 ng E2Eqs/L, 1.2 ng DexEqs/L, and 0.77 ng DHTEqs/L) in multiple sampling events. Estrogen activity, the most often detected, correlated well with measured concentrations of known steroidal estrogens (R2 = 0.890). Overall, activity indicative of multiple types of endocrine active compounds was highest in wastewater effluent samples, while activity downstream was progressively lower, and negligible in (unfinished) treated water. This multiple bioassay approach, in conjunction with targeted analytical chemistry methods, has gained acceptance among water quality screening programs. Not only was estrogenic and glucocorticoid activity confirmed in the effluent by utilizing multiple methods concurrently, but other activated signaling networks that historically received less attention (i.e. peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor) were also detected.