Retinoic acid receptor (RAR) is a nuclear receptor involved in vertebrate morphogenesis, growth, cellular differentiation, and tissue homeostasis. Excess expression of the retinoid signaling can cause various developmental toxicities in animals and humans. We previously found that influents from sewage treatment plants (STPs) in Japan had a RAR agonistic activity and the activity cannot be removed completely by conventional biological treatments. In this study, we assessed the performance of chemical and physical sewage treatment technologies—ozonation, ultraviolet treatment, chlorination, coagulation using polyaluminium chloride (PAC) and ferric sulfate, and filtration with ultrafiltration (UF), nanofiltration (NF), and reverse osmosis (RO) membranes—in removal of RAR agonistic activity of STP effluent. All water treatment experiments were conducted in laboratory-scale reactors. The RAR agonistic activity of samples was measured using a yeast two-hybrid assay. Results showed that the effectiveness of tested technologies on the removal of RAR agonistic activity can be ranked as RO or NF > chlorination > ozonation > MF > UV > coagulation with ferric sulfate>>coagulation with PAC. Furthermore, the effectiveness of chlorination might rank lower because excess reaction might bring a side effect by producing some RAR agonistic by-product(s).

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