Project Details Bioavailability of Endocrine Substances in Aquatic Ecosystems

Project No.:
Start Date:
22 October 2018
End Date:


Evaluate the ecological impact of the organic micro-pollutants (emerging pollutants), and verify the available evidence about their accumulation in the ecosystems, evaluate the likely effect on the environment and human health, and define concentrations, decomposition, bio-availability, eliminating treatment and regulation requirements.


Climate Change and Global Water Scarcity
In the arid and semi-arid regions, water scarcity (quantity and quality) is the most pressing challenge. (Presentations made during the 1st Int. Conference on Water Security, Toronto, 2018, indicated that water scarcity is becoming a worldwide issue). The dry climate and the effects of the global warming are leading to increased pressure on natural water resources causing a rapid quality degradation of the chronically depleted resources. Meeting water supply needs of the expanding population cannot be met only by recycling of wastewater and brackish and sea water desalination, filling in the widening gap between demand and supply.

Water Reuse
As such, indirect and direct potable reuse of effluents are already playing an increasing role in water supply. Reuse of effluents has already reached 80%, in Israel, 12% in Spain, 9% in Australia and Italy and 5% in Greece, increasing on an upward trend, due to the global warming and water scarcity, while providing a reliable water source for the intended reuse and protecting public health (Shevah, 2014).

Wastewater Contaminants and Wastewater Treatment
Wastewater, in general, contains a wide variety of contaminants and pathogens and has a very high loading of organic matter and inorganic pollutants loads, including fats, oils and grease, nutrients (NPK) and micro nutrients and pathogenic agents, as well as biologically active endocrine disruption, such as human and veterinary medicinal and personal care products termed Endocrine Compounds (ECs) or Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products (PPCPs).

For most of the listed contaminants, the advanced domestic and industrial wastewater treatment plants, as widely available, are able to produce treated effluents meeting stringent quality standards and public health regulations and are considered high – quality effluents suitable for all use except for drinking and suitable for unrestricted irrigation, preservation of the green space and other industrial applications and also for safe disposal of effluents to land and or water bodies.

But for the ECs which are characterized by multiple aromatic rings and double bonds, create a chemical stability and therefore they are not adequately removed in the wastewater treatment plants employing primary, secondary and tertiary treatment (Tenenbaum, et al, 2014, Wang and Wang 2016. Yin, et al. 2017). As such, ECs are suspected to have a significant impact on the productive organs of aquatic organisms and to accumulate in crops irrigated with treated affluent and consumable food. Moreover, because of their nature they are not monitored and not included in the regulating standards.

Endocrine Compounds (ECs)
The ECs which have potential impact on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and human health (NRC, 2008, Stuart et al., 2012, Barber, 2014, Christou, et al. 2017.) were extensively studied, including their occurrence in food (Pérez, 2014), plants (Goldstein, 2014), soil (Paz, 2016) and aquatic ecosystems (Meffe & de Bustamante , 2014, Pérez-Fernández et al., 2015, Schröder et al, 2016) and in drinking water distribution systems (Benotti, et al, 2009, Barber et al., 2013). Recently, a comprehensive study was conducted on the occurrence of 940 semi-volatile organic compounds (sterols, PAHs, PCBs and ECs) in sediments collected from 10 river and canals, contaminated by sewage n northern Serbia, (Škrbić, et al., 2018). However, the presence and the extent of ECs in aquatic systems and their adverse impacts on health and living organisms is inconclusive and needs further scrutiny, taking into consideration the characteristics of the numerous compounds, their derivatives, their stream dilution, hydraulic residence time and in-situ attenuation. The uptake of ECs by edible plants is also a major factor shadowing indirect water reuse and more so for direct reuse as it is advocated by USA. Water reuse is the only option to maintain and to increase food production in a world in which natural water resources are getting scarce and insufficient to meet all needs.

Accordingly, a Task Group composed of interdisciplinary experts is proposed to critically review the accumulated evidence of ECs in the ecosystems and the likely effect on the environment and human health. Possible aspects of bioavailability which have to be taken into account would be bioaccumulation in aquatic organisms and humans as well as the presence and fate in aquatic systems, considering concentrations, sorption and dissolution characteristics and decomposition. Assessing bio-availability, uptake and toxic effects and the eliminating treatment and regulation requirements.

The project is intended to address the bioavailability of minute residues of ECs in adequately treated effluents which are used for crop production and in which common contaminants such as metals, organics, natural, synthetic, physical and chemical components have been removed or eliminated at source and therefore are not to be dealt with in the proposed project. Effluent which are not adequately treated are not permitted for use for irrigation. For adequately treated effluents, there is no treatment protocol and a such they are not monitored. The aim of the study is to evaluate if such protocol is necessary.


Nowadays, because of the advanced instrumentation and the high analytical capability as available to researchers, ECs residues are widely investigated, reporting the occurrence of EDCs residues due to indiscriminate discharge of sewage into aquatic ecosystems which may pose a great risk to the health of the ecosystems. But most of the studies do not differentiate between the various levels of treatment of the discharged effluents and the resulting contents of the residual ECs and their bioavailability. As the results, the findings are inconclusive and unsubstantiated conclusions may harm the expansion of water reuse, an untapped water resource that is much needed for food production worldwide.

The climate change, as anticipated, will undoubtedly reduce the availability of freshwater and unfounded reports may affect water reuse, reducing food production and rising pressure on water resources and political conflicts about water. It is therefore very important that IUPAC through Division VI will take part in the debate on the ECs residues, critically evaluating the meaning of the results of contemporary research.

Barber, L.B. (2014). Emerging Contaminants, in Ahuja S. (Ed) In Comprehensive Water Quality and Purification. Vol. 1. Amsterdam, Elsevier Inc.
Barber, L.B., Vajda, A.M., Douville, C., Norris, D.O. and Writer, J.H. (2012). Fish endocrine disruption responses to a major wastewater treatment facility upgrade. Environmental Science and Technology 46, 2121-2131
Barber, L.B., Kede, S.H., Brown, G.K., et al. (2013). Persistence and potential effects of complex organic contaminant mixtures in wastewater impacted streams. Environmental Science and Technology 47, 2177-2188
Benotti, M.J., Trenholm, R.A.,Vanderford, B.J., (2009). Pharmaceuticals and endocrine disruptive compounds in US drinking water. Environmental Science and Technology 43, 1092-1098.
Christou, A, Agüera A, Bayona JM, et al. 2017. The potential implications of reclaimed wastewater reuse for irrigation on the agricultural environment: The knowns and unknowns of the fate of antibiotics and antibiotic resistant bacteria and resistance genes – A review. Water Research 123 : 448-467.
Goldstein, M, Shenker M, and Chefetz B. 2014. Insights into the uptake processes of wastewater-borne pharmaceuticals by vegetables. Environmental Science and Technology 48: 5593-5600.
Meffe, R, de Bustamante I (2014) Emerging organic contaminants in surface water and groundwater: a first overview of the situation in Italy. Sci Total Environ 481:280–295CrossRefGoogle Scholar
National Research Council (NRC) (2008). Issues in potable reuse – The viability of augmenting drinking water supplies with reclaimed water. Washington DC: The National Academy Press .
Paz, A, Tadmor G, Malchi T, et al. 2016. Fate of carbamazepine, its metabolites, and lamotrigine in soils irrigated with reclaimed wastewater: Sorption, leaching and plant uptake. Chemosphere 160 : 22-29.
Pérez, F, Llorca M, Köck-Schulmeyerv M, Škrbić B, et al. (2014) Assessment of perfluoroalkyl substances in food items at global scale. Environ Res 135:181–189CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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Schröder, P, Helmreich B, Škrbić B, et al., (2016). Status of hormones and painkillers in wastewater effluents across several European states—considerations for the EU watch list concerning estradiols and diclofenac. Environ Sci Pollut. Res. 23:12835–12866CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Shevah, Y. (2014). Adaptation to water scarcity and regional cooperation in the Middle East. In Comprehensive Water Quality and Purification. Vol. 1. Amsterdam, Elsevier Inc.
Škrbić, B.D., Kadokami, K., Antić, I. et al. (2018). Micro-pollutants in sediment samples in the middle Danube region, Serbia: occurrence and risk assessment. Environ Sci Pollut. Res. 25: 260.
Stuart, M, Lapworth D, Crane E, Hart A (2012) Review of risk of from potential emerging contaminants in UK groundwater. Sci Total Environ 416:1–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tenenbaum, I, Chefetz B, and Avisar D. 2014. Physiological behavior of tetracycline and 17α-ethinylestradiol with wastewater sludge-derived humic substances. Water Air Soil Pollution 225 : 1-11.
Wang, J and Wang, S. 2016. Removal of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) from wastewater: A review. Journal of Environmental Management, 182 : 620-640.
Yin, L, Wang B, Yuan H, et al. 2017. Pay special attention to the transformation products of PPPs in environment. Emerging Contaminants, 3 (2): 69-75.


Main Tasks
To review available scientific information on emerging contaminants occurring in treated wastewater intended for reuse and their impact on the aquatic environment, crop production and public health, particularly,
• To produce a state of the art and critical review on ECs contributing to the current debate on their magnitude impact on large scale water reuse, worldwide.
• To identify supplementary research as required to advance the knowledge on ECs and their potential impact
• To evaluate the chemical structure and potential treatment processes for the removal of the ECs below a desired threshold.
• To evaluate quality control strategies for direct and indirect reuse of treated effluent, addressing specific critical issues and relevant case studies.
• To recommend uniform and applicable standards, enabling universal water management and water reuse.
• To disseminate findings to relevant stakeholders, including policy-makers and civil society organizations.

Further, because of the wide range of detectable ECs and the changing over time of compounds in use, the identification of representative compounds to serve as a marker for the presence of harmful and bio-available ECs will be attempted.

Page last update 24 Oct 2018