An Assessment of the Model of Concentration Addition for Predicting the Estrogenic Activity of Chemical Mixtures in Wastewater Treatment Works Effluents
Chemical analyses were combined with a biological assay to investigate the main estrogenic chemicals as they passed through a sewage treatment works (STW) and entered a river. The STW studied was unusual in that it received wastewater from the textile trade. This wastewater was shown to contain high concentrations of alkylphenol polyethoxylates and their degradation products, such as nonylphenol. High-performance liquid chromatography fractionation, combined with biological assay, showed that the majority of the estrogenic activity was contributed by the alkylphenolic chemicals and the natural estrogens 17beta-estradiol and estrone. Despite removal of a high proportion of the alkylphenolic chemicals by the various treatment processes within the STW, concentrations in the final effluent were still high compared to most other STW effluents in the United Kingdom. The effluent was very estrogenic to caged fish, as was the river water 2 and 5 km downstream of the STW, even though less so. Using various approaches, attempts were made to determine which group of chemicals contributed most to the estrogenic activity of the effluent. The analysis suggested that, in this unusual situation, the alkylphenolic chemicals may contribute the majority of the estrogenic activity of the effluent. However, this conclusion was based on a number of uncertainties that are presently unresolved and hence can be considered only tentative.