Total Estrogenicity during Conventional and Emerging Biosolids Stabilization Processes — What's Going On, and How Can We Measure It?

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The presence and fate of estrogenic endocrine–disrupting compounds (EDCs) in wastewater during full- and pilot-scale treatment processes has been extensively studied over the past decade-and-a-half using chemical analyses and bioassays. In comparison, much less focus has been given to examining the presence and fate of EDCs in biosolids. This is despite the fact that biosolids are the largest by-products resulting from the wastewater treatment process, and that the chemical properties of many EDCs facilitate their transfer from the liquid to the solid phase in wastewater. The relative scarcity of EDC data for biosolids relative to wastewater, particularly with respect to bioassay-based total estrogenicity values, is in large part due to the analytical challenges involved in working with such a complex sample matrix. The present study details a methodology that has been successfully developed to reliably measure the total estrogenicity of wastewater and biosolids using the yeast estrogen screen (YES). Tests at the City of Guelph (Ontario, Canada) wastewater treatment plant have demonstrated that the estrogenicity of biosolids is considerably lower than that reported in earlier published studies. However, the total estrogenicity of biosolids remained relatively constant throughout the biosolids treatment train. This suggests that while EDC reduction during biosolids treatment has been demonstrated elsewhere for specific compounds, the net estrogenic potential of all compounds present is minimally affected by the treatment processes considered in this study.
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