The behavior of 10 micropollutants, i.e. four estrogens (estrone, 17β-estradiol, estriol, 17α-ethynylestradiol), carbamazepine (CBZ), sulfamethoxazole (SMX), triclosan, oxybenzone, 4-nonylphenol, and bisphenol A, was investigated in a typical domestic wastewater treatment plant. LC-MS and yeast estrogen screen bioassay were used to study the changes in micropollutants and estrogenicity across unit processes in the treatment system. Primary treatment via sedimentation showed that only 4-nonylphenol was removed, but led to no significant change in estrogenicity. Secondary treatment by the biological nitrification-dentrification process showed complete removal of oxybenzone and partial removal of the estrogens, which led to a decrease in estrogenic activity from 80 to 48 ng/L as estradiol equivalent (EEq). Ultraviolet treatment completely degraded the estrogens and triclosan, but failed to lower the concentrations of bisphenol A, SMX, and CBZ; a decrease in estrogenic activity from 48 to 5 ng/L EEq across the unit, a value that was only slightly larger than the observed EEq of 1 ng/L for the deionized control. Similarly, the anaerobic digestion of sludge completely degraded estrogens, oxybenzone, and SMX, but had no impact on bisphenol A, triclosan, and CBZ. The study emphasises the need to complement chemical analyses with estrogenic bioassays to evaluate the efficacy of waste water treatment plants.

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