The proliferation test with human estrogen receptor-positive MCF-7 breast cancer cells (E-Screen assay) was applied for quantitative determination of total estrogenic activity in 24-h composite effluent samples from 16 municipal and two industrial sewage treatment plants (STPs) in the state of Baden-Württemberg, southwestern Germany. The estrogenic efficacy relative to the positive control, 17β-estradiol, was between 26 and 74% (median, 48%) for the 16 municipal STPs. Estradiol equivalent concentrations (EEQs) were between 0.2 and 7.8 ng/L (median, 1.6 ng/L) and, thereby, were lower than those found in a pilot study, which revealed EEQs of greater than 10 ng/L in the effluents of two other STPs. The EEQs in 14 of the 16 effluent samples were very similar (0.9–3.3 ng/L), indicating a rather constant input of estrogenic substances via STPs into rivers. Additional activated charcoal filtration turned out to be very efficient in further eliminating estrogenic activity from effluents. The EEQs of the E-Screen assay and those calculated from the results of extensive chemical analysis using the estradiol equivalency factors determined for 13 natural and synthetic estrogenic substances were comparable for most of the effluent samples. 17β-Estradiol, 17α-ethinylestradiol, and, to a lesser extent, estrone contributed to 90% or more of the EEQ value.
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