A study was performed to optimize sample preparation and application of three in vitro assays for measuring estrogenic potency in environmental extracts. The three assays applied were an estrogen receptor (ER)-binding assay and two reporter gene effect assays: a yeast estrogen screen (YES) and the ER-mediated chemically activated luciferase gene expression (ER-CALUX) assay. All assays were able to detect estrogenicity, but the amounts of material needed for the assays differed greatly between the three assays (ER-binding assay ≫ YES > ER-CALUX). In addition, in the ER-binding assay, both agonists and antagonists give an estrogenic response, resulting in higher estradiol equivalency (EEQ) levels than both the ER-CALUX and the YES assay for the same samples. The EEQs found in wastewater treatment plants (WTPs) with the ER-CALUX assay were in the range of 4 to 440 and 0.11 to 59 pmol/L for influent and effluent, respectively. Water extracts from four large rivers had levels ranging from 0.25 to 1.72 pmol/L. Extracts from suspended matter and sludge contained estrogenic potency of 0.26 to 2.49 and 1.6 to 41 pmol EEQ/g dry weight, respectively. In WTPs, the average reduction of estrogenic potency in effluent compared to influent was 90 to 95% in municipal WTPs and about 50% in industrial WTPs. In influent, 30% of the ER-CALUX activity could not be explained by the calculated potencies based on chemical analysis of a number of known (xeno)estrogens; in effluent the unexplained fraction was 80%. These first results of analyzing estrogenic potency in WTP water and surface water in The Netherlands indicate that further studies are warranted to investigate the actual risks for aquatic systems.
- surface water
- waste water