In the context of water scarcity, domestic secondary effluent reuse may be an option as a reliable source for alleviating acute water shortage. The increasing risks linked with the presence of natural steroid hormones and many emerging anthropogenic micropollutants (MPs) passing through municipal wastewater treatment works (MWWTWs) are of concern for their endocrine-disrupting activities. In this study, domestic wastewater treated by a full-scale membrane bioreactor (MBR) at an MWWTW in the Western Cape Province, South Africa, was used directly as the influent to a reverse osmosis (RO) pilot plant for the removal of selected natural steroid hormones 17β-estradiol (E2) and testosterone (T) as a potential indirect water recycling application. Estrogenicity and androgenicity were assessed using the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) and the recombinant yeast estrogen receptor binding assays (YES). The influent pH and flux did not influence the rejection of E2 and T, which was most likely due to adsorption, size exclusion, and diffusion simultaneously. RO and nanofiltration (NF) exhibited excellent removal rates (>95%) for E2 and T. All the E2 effluent samples with MBR/ultrafiltration (UF), MBR/NF, and MBR/RO were lower than the US EPA and WHO trigger value of 0.7 ng/L, as well as the predicted no-effect concentration (PNEC) values for fish (1 ng E2/L).
Keywords: androgen; estrogen; level of detection (LOD); membrane bioreactor (MBR); micro pollutions (MPs); nanofiltration (NF); predicted no-effect concentration (PNEC); reverse osmosis (RO); steroid hormones; ultrafiltration (UF).