An integrative approach combining passive sampling, bioassays, and effect-directed analysis to assess the impact of wastewater effluent

Environ Toxicol Chem. 2018 Aug;37(8):2079-2088. doi: 10.1002/etc.4155. Epub 2018 Jun 14.


Wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) effluents are major sources of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and other chemicals of toxicological concern for the aquatic environment. In the present study, we used an integrated strategy combining passive sampling (Chemcatcher®), developmental toxicity, and mechanism-based in vitro and in vivo bioassays to monitor the impacts of a WWTP on a river. In vitro screening revealed the WWTP effluent as a source of estrogen, glucocorticoid, and aryl hydrocarbon (AhR) receptor-mediated activities impacting the downstream river site where significant activities were also measured, albeit to a lesser extent than in the effluent. Effect-directed analysis of the effluent successfully identified the presence of potent estrogens (estrone, 17α-ethinylestradiol, and 17β-estradiol) and glucocorticoids (clobetasol propionate and fluticasone propionate) as the major contributors to the observed in vitro activities, even though other unidentified active chemicals were likely present. The impact of the WWTP was also assessed using zebrafish embryo assays, highlighting its ability to induce estrogenic response through up-regulation of the aromatase promoter-dependent reporter gene in the transgenic (cyp19a1b-green fluorescent protein [GFP]) zebrafish assay and to generate teratogenic effects at nonlethal concentrations in the zebrafish embryo toxicity test. The present study argues for the use of such an integrated approach, combining passive sampling, bioassays, and effect-directed analysis, to comprehensively identify endocrine active compounds and associated hazards of WTTP effluents. Environ Toxicol Chem 2018;37:2079-2088. © 2018 SETAC.

Keywords: Effect-directed analysis; Embryo toxicity; Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs); LC-MS/MS analysis; Passive sampling; WWTP effluent.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Assay / methods*
  • Endocrine Disruptors / analysis
  • Endocrine Disruptors / toxicity
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Estrogens / analysis
  • Rivers / chemistry
  • Toxicity Tests
  • Wastewater / chemistry*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity
  • Zebrafish / embryology


  • Endocrine Disruptors
  • Estrogens
  • Waste Water
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical