Water, Air, and Soil Pollution

, Volume 134, Issue 1–4, pp 351–366 | Cite as

Degradation of 17β-Estradiol and its Metabolites by Sewage Bacteria

  • H. B. Lee
  • D. Liu


Natural estrogens (e.g., 17β-estradiol or 1,3,5[10]-estratriene-3,17β-diol) have been suggested as one of the major groups of substances that cause endocrine disruption in wildlife. There is little information in the open literature on the fate of natural estrogens in the environment, a fact thathinders the assessment of their ultimate impact on the ecosystem. Aerobic and anaerobic batch experiments involving a 17β-estradiol-degrading culture and a supernatant of activated sludge from a local sewage treatment plant (Burlington, Ontario) were undertaken to assess the persistenceof 17β-estradiol (E2) and its 5 metabolites. The batch experiments showed that E2 and the metabolites werenot persistent and could be rapidly degraded by sewage bacteria.Biodegradation of E2 by sewage bacteria appeared to initiate at the D ring of E2, leading to the formation of the major metabolite estrone (E1). No other major degradation products were noted. However, during the very earlystages of E2 degradation by sewage bacteria, a previouslyunreported metabolite, X1 (5-hydroxy-15-methyl-13-oxatetracyclo[ <2,7> .0. <11,15>]-heptadeca-2(7),3,5-trien-14-one), was observed. X1 appeared to be a labilemetabolite with a lactone structure, but its significance in thebiodegradation of E2 remained to be elucidated. With theobservation of the new metabolite X1, a metabolic pathway of E2 by sewage bacteria was proposed. Conditions (e.g., aerobic and anaerobic environment) governing the persistence of E2 in sewage were also investigated. Results in this study suggest that the risk of extensive accumulation of natural estrogens normally found in sewage effluents in theenvironment is small, due to their ready biodegradation.

biodegradation degradation pathway 17β-estradiol estrogen sewage 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Aquatic Ecosystem Protection BranchNational Water Research InstituteBurlingtonCanada

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