Eaton A. The Presence of 17-beta Estradiol, 17-alpha Ethinyl Estradiol, and Estrone in Wastewater Treatment: Navigating Unanticipated Results. Inquiry Journal [Internet]. 2022;(Spring 2022). Publisher's VersionAbstract

In 2021, I participated in the Research Experience and Apprenticeship Program under the guidance of Dr. Paula Mouser of UNH’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. I researched the fate and transport of several estrogenic compounds in a Connecticut wastewater treatment facility. The popularity of oral contraceptives has led to an increase in hormonal contaminants in surface water bodies. Estradiols and ethinyl estradiols, the two estrogenic compounds that I intended to study, can negatively impact the development of reproductive organs in male fish, such as reducing testes size as well as lowering sperm count. Municipal wastewater treatment plant discharge is one possible source of estrogenic compounds in the environment, so I aimed to understand which treatment methods best target the removal of 17-beta estradiol and 17-alpha estradiol. I sampled in five different locations at the treatment facility, and, surprisingly, these compounds weren’t detected in any samples. The only compound that was detected was estrone, a weaker estrogen found in high concentrations in post-menopausal women. After reviewing the metabolic pathway of estrogen, I realized that the microbial and aerobic conditions in the treatment facility may have allowed for the conversion of 17-beta estradiol and 17-alpha ethinyl estradiol to estrone. The amount of estrone detected is significant enough to be of concern for the health of aquatic ecosystems in the treatment plant’s locale.

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