Detection of multiple hormonal activities in wastewater effluents and surface water, using a panel of steroid receptor CALUX bioassays

S.C. van der Linden, M.B. Heringa, H.Y. Man, E. Sonneveld, L.M. Puijker, A. Brouwer, B. van der Burg

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


It is generally known that there are compounds present in the aquatic environment that can disturb endocrine processes, for example via interaction with the endogenous hormone receptors. Most research so far has focused on compounds that bind to the estrogen and/or androgen receptor, but ligands for other hormone receptors might also be present. In this study, a newly completed panel of human cell derived CALUX reporter gene bioassays was utilized to test water extracts for estrogen (ER), as well as androgen (AR), progesterone (PR), and glucocorticoid (GR) receptor mediated transactivation activity. Effluents from industry, hospital, and municipal sewage treatment plants, as well as tap water and different sources of surface water were tested. The CALUX reporter gene panel showed high sensitivity and specificity to known agonists, enabling discrimination between different receptor based endocrine responses present in the aquatic environment. Our results clearly showed the presence of agonistic activity on the ER, as well as on the AR, PR, and GR in the raw and wastewater and surface water extracts. However, no hormone receptor-mediated transactivation was detected in the drinking water or in the blank water. The levels of estrogenic activity were 0.2-0.5 ng E2-equiv/L for surface water and 0.4-1.0 ng E2-equiv/L for municipal effluents, which was consistent with previous studies. Surprisingly, the other hormonal activities were found to be present in similar or much higher levels. Most notably, glucocorticoid-like activity was detected in all samples, at surprisingly high levels ranging from 0.39-1.3 ng Dex-equiv/L in surface water and 11-243 ng Dex-equiv/L in effluents. When regarding the fact that dexamethasone in the GR CALUX bioassay is a factor 12 more potent than the natural hormone cortisol, results expressed as cortisol equivalents would range up to 2900 ng cortisol equiv/L Further studies are needed to establish the identity of the active compounds and to understand the significance of the level of activities with regard to human and ecotoxicological risks. © 2008 American Chemical Society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5814-5820
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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