Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 15, Issue 5, pp 405–416

Occurrence and temporal variations of the xenoestrogens bisphenol A, 4-tert-octylphenol, and tech. 4-nonylphenol in two German wastewater treatment plants


DOI: 10.1007/s11356-008-0007-2

Cite this article as:
Höhne, C. & Püttmann, W. Environ Sci Pollut Res (2008) 15: 405. doi:10.1007/s11356-008-0007-2


Goal, scope, and background

The xenoestrogens bisphenol A, 4-tert-octylphenol, and the technical isomer mixture of 4-nonylphenol (tech. 4-nonylphenol) belong to the group of chemicals which are called endocrine disrupters due to their property of causing hormonal dysfunctions in the endocrine system of organisms at very low concentrations. Bisphenol A, 4-tert-octylphenol, and the tech. 4-nonylphenol (mixture of isomers) were determined in water samples collected from the influent and effluent of two German wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) during a long-time sampling period from February 2003 till August 2005 to assess their occurrence and temporal variations in WWTPs.


The compounds were extracted and concentrated from water by solid-phase extraction (SPE) using Bond Elut PPL cartridges and quantified by use of gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC–MS).


The influent concentrations were as follows: Bisphenol A < limit of detection of the method (< ldm)—12,205 ng L−1, tech. 4-nonylphenol < ldm—10,186 ng L−1, and 4-tert-octylphenol 39—1,495 ng L−1. The measured effluent concentrations were lower with values in the range of < ldm—7,625 ng L−1 for bisphenol A, < ldm—14,444 ng L−1 for tech. 4-nonylphenol, and < ldm—392 ng L−1 for 4-tert-octylphenol. All target compounds were largely eliminated during the wastewater treatment process. The elimination efficiency varied between 73% and 93%.


All analytes show highly fluctuating influent concentrations with very high peak concentrations at particular sampling times. The variation of effluent concentrations is by far lower than the variation of influent concentrations. For tech. 4-nonylphenol, a significant temporal concentration variation has been detected with very high concentrations up to the microgram-per-liter level in the time from February 2003 till July 2003 and clearly decreasing concentrations in the time from June 2004 till August 2005. This corresponds well with the implementation of Directive 2003/53/EC (nonylphenol and nonylphenol ethoxylates in the European Union “may not be placed on the marked or used as a substance or constituent of preparations in concentrations equal or higher than 0.1% by mass”) from January 2005 on. Bisphenol A is present in the effluent samples in a wide range of concentrations from below the detection limit to high concentrations up to the microgram-per-liter level. For 4-tert-octylphenol, no particular trend of concentration development has been observed.


Combined SPE and GC–MS proved to be an efficient method to identify and quantify polar organic compounds in environmental samples. With respect to the concentrations measured in the present study, bisphenol A sometimes is the prominent compound in influent samples. Neither bisphenol A nor 4-tert-octylphenol or tech. 4-nonylphenol show seasonal variations. However, there was a significant general trend of decreasing concentrations of tech. 4-nonylphenol in influent and effluent samples from both WWTPs which probably reflects the implementing Directive 2003/53/EC.

Recommendations and perspectives

Further research is needed to investigate whether the observed decrease of tech. 4-nonylphenol concentrations in German WWTPs since June 2004 will continue further on. The reason for the high effluent concentrations of bisphenol A in only a few samples has to be clarified in further research. The results from this study provide insight into the concentration development of the xenoestrogens bisphenol A, tech. 4-nonylphenol, and 4-tert-octylphenol in WWTPs in the time span between 2003 and 2005.


4-tert-Octylphenol Bisphenol A Endocrine disruptors Long-term study Tech. 4-nonylphenol Wastewater treatment plants Xenoestrogens 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, Department of Analytical Environmental ChemistryJ.W. Goethe-University Frankfurt am MainFrankfurt am MainGermany

Personalised recommendations