Effects-Based Monitoring of Bioactive Chemicals Discharged to the Colorado River before and after a Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plant Replacement

Environ Sci Technol. 2021 Jan 19;55(2):974-984. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.0c05269. Epub 2020 Dec 29.


Monitoring of the Colorado River near the Moab, Utah, wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) outflow has detected pharmaceuticals, hormones, and estrogen-receptor (ER)-, glucocorticoid receptor (GR)-, and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma (PPARγ)-mediated biological activities. The aim of the present multi-year study was to assess effects of a WWTP replacement on bioactive chemical (BC) concentrations. Water samples were collected bimonthly, pre- and post-replacement, at 11 sites along the Colorado River upstream and downstream of the WWTP and analyzed for in vitro bioactivities (e.g., agonism of ER, GR, and PPARγ) and BC concentrations; fathead minnows were cage deployed pre- and post-replacement at sites with varying proximities to the WWTP. Before the WWTP replacement, in vitro ER (24 ng 17β-estradiol equivalents/L)-, GR (60 ng dexamethasone equivalents/L)-, and PPARγ-mediated activities were detected at the WWTP outflow but diminished downstream. In March 2018, the WWTP effluent was acutely toxic to the fish, likely due to elevated ammonia concentrations. Following the WWTP replacement, ER, GR, and PPARγ bioactivities were reduced by approximately 60-79%, no toxicity was observed in caged fish, and there were marked decreases in concentrations of many BCs. Results suggest that replacement of the Moab WWTP achieved a significant reduction in BC concentrations to the Colorado River.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Colorado
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Utah
  • Waste Disposal, Fluid
  • Waste Water
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical* / analysis
  • Water Purification*


  • Waste Water
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical