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  • Effect-related evaluation of anthropogenic trace substances, -concepts for genotoxicity, neurotoxicity and, endocrine effects
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Effectivity of advanced wastewater treatment: reduction of in vitro endocrine activity and mutagenicity but not of in vivo reproductive toxicity


Conventional wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) have a limited capacity to eliminate micropollutants. One option to improve this is tertiary treatment. Accordingly, the WWTP Eriskirch at the German river Schussen has been upgraded with different combinations of ozonation, sand, and granulated activated carbon filtration. In this study, the removal of endocrine and genotoxic effects in vitro and reproductive toxicity in vivo was assessed in a 2-year long-term monitoring. All experiments were performed with aqueous and solid-phase extracted water samples. Untreated wastewater affected several endocrine endpoints in reporter gene assays. The conventional treatment removed the estrogenic and androgenic activity by 77 and 95 %, respectively. Nevertheless, high anti-estrogenic activities and reproductive toxicity persisted. All advanced treatment technologies further reduced the estrogenic activities by additional 69–86 % compared to conventional treatment, resulting in a complete removal of up to 97 %. In the Ames assay, we detected an ozone-induced mutagenicity, which was removed by subsequent filtration. This demonstrates that a post treatment to ozonation is needed to minimize toxic oxidative transformation products. In the reproduction test with the mudsnail Potamopyrgus antipodarum, a decreased number of embryos was observed for all wastewater samples. This indicates that reproductive toxicants were eliminated by neither the conventional nor the advanced treatment. Furthermore, aqueous samples showed higher anti-estrogenic and reproductive toxicity than extracted samples, indicating that the causative compounds are not extractable or were lost during extraction. This underlines the importance of the adequate handling of wastewater samples. Taken together, this study demonstrates that combinations of multiple advanced technologies reduce endocrine effects in vitro. However, they did not remove in vitro anti-estrogenicity and in vivo reproductive toxicity. This implies that a further optimization of advanced wastewater treatment is needed that goes beyond combining available technologies.

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The authors would like to thank all SchussenAktivplus project partners and especially the project coordinator Rita Triebskorn for a successful cooperation. The project SchussenAktivplus is funded by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) and co-funded by the Ministry of the Environment, Climate Protection and the Energy Sector, Baden-Württemberg. In addition, Jedele & Partner GmbH, Ökonsult GbR, the city of Ravensburg, the AZV Mariatal and the AV Unteres Schussental financially contribute to the project. SchussenAktivplus is part of the BMBF action plan “Sustainable water management (NaWaM)” and is integrated in the BMBF frame program “Research for sustainable development FONA.” It is part of the funding measure “Risk Management of Emerging Compounds and Pathogens in the Water Cycle (RiSKWa)” (contract period: January 2012 to June 2016, funding number: 02WRS1281J).

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Correspondence to Sabrina Giebner.

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Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

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Giebner, S., Ostermann, S., Straskraba, S. et al. Effectivity of advanced wastewater treatment: reduction of in vitro endocrine activity and mutagenicity but not of in vivo reproductive toxicity. Environ Sci Pollut Res 25, 3965–3976 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-016-7540-1

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  • Micropollutants
  • Ozonation
  • Granulated activated carbon
  • Estrogenicity
  • Androgenicity
  • Anti-estrogenicity
  • Genotoxicity
  • Potamopyrgus antipodarum