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Keywords:

  • contaminants of emerging concern;
  • endocrine-disrupting chemicals;
  • wastewater;
  • attenuation;
  • water;
  • sediment;
  • hormones;
  • surfactants;
  • ecosystem impairment

Abstract

The U.S. Geological Survey is conducting a combined pre/post-closure assessment at a long-term wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) site at Fort Gordon near Augusta, Georgia. Here, we assess select endocrine-active chemicals and benthic macroinvertebrate community structure prior to closure of the WWTP. Substantial downstream transport and limited instream attenuation of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) was observed in Spirit Creek over a 2.2-km stream segment downstream of the WWTP outfall. A modest decline (less than 20% in all cases) in surface water detections was observed with increasing distance downstream of the WWTP and attributed to partitioning to the sediment. Estrogens detected in surface water in this study included estrone (E1), 17β-estradiol (E2), and estriol (E3). The 5 ng/l and higher mean estrogen concentrations observed in downstream locations indicated that the potential for endocrine disruption was substantial. Concentrations of alkylphenol ethoxylate (APE) metabolite EDCs also remained statistically elevated above levels observed at the upstream control site. Wastewater-derived pharmaceutical and APE metabolites were detected in the outflow of Spirit Lake, indicating the potential for EDC transport to aquatic ecosystems downstream of Fort Gordon. The results indicate substantial EDC occurrence, downstream transport, and persistence under continuous supply conditions and provide a baseline for a rare evaluation of ecosystem response to WWTP closure.