The study, led by scientists at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, is the first to document the unusual behavior of estrogens in wastewater lagoons. The study appears in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
Just as new mothers undergo hormonal changes that enable them to breastfeed, lactating cows generate estrogenic hormones that are excreted in urine and feces, said ISTC senior research scientist Wei Zheng, who led the study. In large “confined animal feeding operations” (CAFOs) the hormones end up in wastewater. Farmers often store the wastewater in lagoons and may use it to fertilize crops.
Federal laws regulate the flow of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous from CAFOs to prevent excess nutrients from polluting rivers, streams, lakes or groundwater. Environmental officials assume that such regulations also protect groundwater and surface waters from contamination with animal hormones and veterinary pharmaceuticals, but this has not been proven.
Hormone concentrations in livestock wastes are 100 to 1,000 times higher than those emitted from plants that treat human sewage, and large dairy farms are a primary source of estrogens in the environment, Zheng said. Recent studies have detected estrogenic hormones in soil and surrounding watersheds after dairy wastewater was sprayed on the land as fertilizer.
“These estrogens are present at levels that can affect the (reproductive functions of) aquatic animals,” Zheng said. Even low levels of estrogens can “feminize” animals that spend their lives in the water, causing male fish, for example, to have low sperm counts or to develop female characteristics (such as producing eggs), undermining their ability to reproduce.
Hormones that end up in surface or groundwater could contaminate sources of drinking water for humans, Zheng said. “The estrogens may also be taken up by plants – a potential new route into the food chain,” he said.
While conducting the new study on dairy waste lagoon water in the lab, the researchers were surprised at first to see levels of three primary estrogens (17 alpha-estradiol, 17 beta-estradiol and estrone) fall and then rise again in their samples. Further analysis revealed that the estradiols were being converted to estrone, undergoing the normal first step of biodegradation. But then the process reversed itself: Estrone was reverting to the alpha- and beta-estradiols.
“We call this a reverse transformation,” Zheng said. “It inhibits further degradation. Now we have a better idea of why (the estrogens) can persist in the environment.”The degradation rates of the three hormones in the wastewater solution were temperature-dependent, and very slow. After 52 days at 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) – an ideal temperature for hormone degradation, Zheng said – less than 30 percent of the hormones in the solution had broken down.
The fluctuating levels of estrone and estradiols may lead to detection errors, Zheng said, giving the impression that the total estrogen load of wastewater is decreasing when it is not.
“We need to develop a strategy to prevent these hormones from building up in the environment,” he said.Researchers from the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture also contributed to this study. The USDA supported this research.
The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center is a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the U. of I.Editor’s notes: To reach Wei Zheng, call:217-333-7276;
Diana Yates | University of Illinois
Dispersal of Fish Eggs by Water Birds – Just a Myth?
19.02.2018 | Universität Basel
Removing fossil fuel subsidies will not reduce CO2 emissions as much as hoped
08.02.2018 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.
Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...
Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.
The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...
Stable joint cartilage can be produced from adult stem cells originating from bone marrow. This is made possible by inducing specific molecular processes occurring during embryonic cartilage formation, as researchers from the University and University Hospital of Basel report in the scientific journal PNAS.
Certain mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from the bone marrow of adults are considered extremely promising for skeletal tissue regeneration. These adult stem...
In the fight against cancer, scientists are developing new drugs to hit tumor cells at so far unused weak points. Such a “sore spot” is the protein complex...
In an article that appears in the journal “Review of Modern Physics”, researchers at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (LAP) assess the current state of the field of ultrafast physics and consider its implications for future technologies.
Physicists can now control light in both time and space with hitherto unimagined precision. This is particularly true for the ability to generate ultrashort...
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
09.04.2018 | Event News
19.04.2018 | Materials Sciences
19.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
19.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy