Steroid estrogens in primary and tertiary wastewater treatment plants
Smythe, George A.
Feitz, Andrew J.
The concentrations of two natural estrogens (Estrone (E1) and Estradiol (E2)) and one synthetic progestin (Ethinylestradiol (EE2)) were measured for different unit operations in an advanced sewage treatment plant and in a large coastal enhanced primary sewage treatment plant. The average influent concentration to both plants was similar – 55 and 53 ng/L for E1 and 22 and 12 ng/L for E2 for the advanced and enhanced primary STPs, respectively. The activated sludge process at the advanced STP removed up to 85% and 96% of E1 and E2, respectively. The enhanced primary sewage treatment plant was mostly ineffective at removing the steroids with only 14% of E1 and 5% of E2 being removed during the treatment process. EE2 was not been detected during the study period in the influent or effluent of either STP. The difference in the observed removal between the two plants is primarily linked to plant performance but the extent to which removal of steroid estrogens is due to bacterial metabolism (i.e. the advanced STP) rather than adsorption to the bacterial biomass remains unclear. The poor removal observed for the coastal enhanced primary STP may have implications for the receiving environment in terms of a greater potential for abnormal reproductive systems in marine animals, particularly if discharges are into large bays or harbours where flushing is limited.