Endocrine disrupting chemicals in hospital effluent waters from the Brussels region and its impact on bacterial biodiversity.

Project Details


Today, there is international concern regarding the effects of natural and synthetic chemicals on the health of humans and wildlife since these emerging pollutants are able to interfere and act upon the hormonal system. These so-called endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are of particular concern to aquatic ecosystems, because these compounds are present in almost all wastewater and treated wastewater effluents and in rivers receiving these effluents, ground water supplies, sea water, sediment and biota, and could possibly be of major concern for urban river systems like the river Zenne (Harris et al., 2011; Hotchkiss et al., 2008; Pojana, Gomiero, Jonkers, & Marcomini, 2007; Sumpter & Johnson, 2005; Sun, Deng, Huang, Shen, & Yu, 2008). The environmental and specific health risks, as well as the mechanism of action of EDCs are poorly known at present (National Institute for Environmental Health Science, 2010) and EDCs discharged into the environment can, through their effects on the endocrine system, cause disruption to normal physiological functions of exposed organisms (S. Jobling & Sumpter, 1993; Susan Jobling, Reynolds, White, Parker, & Sumpter, 1995; Sumpter & Jobling, 1995) and act on ecological and bacterial biodiversity (Langford, Scrimshaw, & Lester, 2007) in watersheds.The occurrence and concentration of Xeno-EDCs is a marker/indicator of human impact and anthropogenic burden on the water quality, as indicated by regulatory agencies (Kavlock et al., 1996; US EPA, 2013), as wells as an important contributor to ecological diversity (Garcia-Armisen et al., 2011). Since the quality of surface water is directly influenced by wastewater treatment plant effluents (WWTP), efforts should be expended to determine the organic pollutant load in WWTP influents, effluents and downstream waters. In this respect, the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (European Commission Directive 91/271/EC, 1991) indicates that all EU wastewater will have to be properly collected and subjected to secondary treatment (biological, with secondary settlement) before being discharged into the environment. In addition, the European Water Framework Directive (WFD) (European Commission Directive 2000/60/EC, 2000, 2008), whose main objective is to obtain a good ecological and chemical status for all European water bodies by 2015, also established a priority list of 33 new and 8 previously regulated chemical pollutants presenting a significant risk to or via the aquatic environment (EC, 2008). The WFD is backed up by other EU legislations such as the REACH regulation on chemicals and the Directive for Integrated Pollution and Prevention Control (IPPC) for industrial installations. For the priority substances, environmental quality standards were set in 2008, and they have to be monitored by all EU-Member States. Several of these substances are recognized endocrine disrupting chemicals such as the penta-bromodiphenylether (PBDE), octylphenol (OP), nonylphenol (NP) and the di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP), and are listed as hazardous priority substances (EC, 2008).Because of the WFD, The Brussels-Capital Region was forced (ordonnance of 20.10.2006) to establish a water management plan (WMP) for the River Basin of the Zenne (Brussels Hoofdstedelijke Gewest, 2009). There is a significant risk that the quality objectives of the WFD will not be achieved by 2015 (Bunzel, Kattwinkel, & Liess, 2012), and that specific measurements are needed. Since 2001, and adapted in 2006 to fulfill the WFD requirements, measuring stations control the quality of the surface water at the inlet and the outlet of the Brussels Region. This monitoring network (BIM/IBGE, 2009) follows up the physical-chemical parameters together with hundreds of dangerous contaminants such as trace metals and persistent aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (list of these compounds is determined by the KB08/04/2011). From this monitoring, it was concluded that the biological and physical-chemical quality of the Zenne is rather poor (BIM/IBGE, 2009; Brussels Environment, 2012). The Zenne itself is a small-sized river that transports the waste water of over 1 million people and several industries. Already upstream, contamination occurs when flowing through the Flemish and Walloon Region. Yet, water quality already improved significantly when leaving the Brussels Region (GESZ, 2011). This is mainly due to the commissioning of the WWTP South in 2000 and WWTP North in 2007 (tertiary treatment of waste) of Brussels. However, these WWTPs were not designed to deal with all the contaminating compounds, and are not able to protect the Zenne, its ecological status and its inhabitants against occasional contamination (such as point discharges, rain events…). This is especially true for the WWTP South, which does not have tertiary treatment to reduce micropollutant load entering the Zenne ecosystem. Moreover, specifically with regards to EDCs, large inflows are provided by hospitals which release vast quantities of wastewater containing EDCs such as hormones, drugs and antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PCPPs) (Kosma, Lambropoulou, & Albanis, 2010; Miège, Choubert, Ribeiro, Eusèbe, & Coquery, 2009; Verlicchi, Al Aukidy, Galletti, Petrovic, & Barceló, 2012) along with common municipal waste (Gros, Petrović, Ginebreda, & Barceló, 2010; Nakada, Tanishima, Shinohara, Kiri, & Takada, 2006; Sarmah, Northcott, Leusch, & Tremblay, 2006; Servos et al., 2005). The Zenne river, downstream of Brussels, is composed by more than 50% of WWTP effluents, and since there is no active treatment (tertiary treatment) for EDC removal from the wastewater in the Brussels WWTP south, it is of crucial importance to have an insight about the occurrence and contamination levels of these substances in the Zenne (GESZ, 2011) through evaluation of hospital discharge. More importantly, hospital effluent is a point source of xeno-EDCs and packs a high load (both in number and in diversity) of EDCs in a relatively small effluent volume. It contains a broad mix of EDCs such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs including hormones, antibiotics and detergents) and little is known on total EDC activity in these kinds of waste (Kosma et al., 2010; Miège et al., 2009; Pauwels & Verstraete, 2006; Verlicchi, Galletti, Petrovic, & Barceló, 2010). The importance of the emerging group of polluting EDCs has already been defined (Verlicchi et al., 2010) as well as the fact that several studies pointed out that these estrogenic chemicals are commonly found in the effluent of WWTP (Miège et al., 2009) and hospital effluents (Kosma et al., 2010) and thus present a major environmental health risk (Céspedes, Lacorte, Ginebreda, & Barceló, 2006; Harris et al., 2011; Hekster & Mons, 2004; Mes, Zeeman, & Lettinga, 2005; Murk et al., 2002; Petrovic, Eljarrat, Lopez De Alda, & Barceló, 2004; Pojana et al., 2007; Wang, Hu, Cao, Fu, & Zhu, 2005). As it currently stands, not enough is being done to stop these compounds from entering the aquatic system. Once there, it has been shown that there is indeed an impact on microbiological diversity (Passerat, Ouattara, Mouchel, Rocher, & Servais, 2011), but also on dominant bacteria (Servais & Passerat, 2009).Furthermore, it is of special interest to determine which EDCs are coming from the hospital effluent, are not/poorly removed or degraded in the WWTP and which of these chemicals can pose a threat to the quality of surface water and biota residing in it. Due to the broad range of physiological effects caused by EDCs on vertebrates and invertebrates (Fox, 2005) and the effect of bacterial populations (Pauwels & Verstraete, 2006; Vilanova, Manero, Cerda-Cuellar, & Blanch, 2002), it is extremely important to determine the estrogen disrupting burden on these ecosystems. Up to now, the presence of EDCs in hospital effluent from the Brussels region has been poorly investigated.
Effective start/end date1/02/1428/02/17


  • Chemistry

Flemish discipline codes in use since 2023

  • Inorganic chemistry


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