• Sex-Changing Fish Highlight Method of Treating Oestrogen Levels in Wastewater


Sex-Changing Fish Highlight Method of Treating Oestrogen Levels in Wastewater

Jul 30 2015

A study conducted by Terrence Collins, a chemist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, USA, has uncovered a potential way to remove contaminants caused by birth control pills in wastewater systems. The paper was initially intended to find ways of removing 17alpha-ethinylestradiol (EE2) from rivers, as the synthetic oestrogen found in oral contraceptives was affecting the fish in the water.

However, in the study published in Scientific Reports, Collins argues that the use of TAML activators “could be a viable option for large-scale water treatment”. TAML activators are diminutive molecules which function in a similar manner to oxidising enzymes, thus purifying the water and ridding it of the harmful chemicals.

Involuntary Transgender Fish

The presence of EE2 in rivers and streams had become a problem due to the alarming effects it was exhibiting on the male fish population. Male fish exposed to the chemical have been found to develop certain proteins which can lead to the growth of eggs in their testes. Clearly, this is not a natural phenomenon, as is described further in the Oregon Public Broadcasting journal.

Male fish which became feminised by the oestrogen and created eggs were unable to procreate in the natural manner. As such, the fish population has suffered something of a decline due to the presence of this drug in the water.

Now, it’s thought that Collins’ research could be beneficial to human lives, as well. According to US water quality watchdog Water Online, “It has long been known that there are trace amounts of PPCPs (pharmaceutical and personal care products) that escape our wastewater treatment plants and end up in waterways, including drinking water sources.”

Collins himself highlighted how his findings could be in cleaning up our own water supplies. In a separate article on the water watchdog, Collins said: “These chemicals, called micropollutants, can be bioactive at low environmentally-relevant concentrations and are typically tough to break down. We need to get these micropollutants out of our water systems. Fish are indicators of what can happen when hormone control systems get hijacked by synthetic chemicals. We humans are also animals with endocrine systems, after all.”

Different Approaches to Wastewater Treatment

Of course, birth control pills aren’t the only contaminants found in our rivers and waterways. Indeed, a complex network of wastewater systems are set up to treat and ween out all manner of pollutants from crude oils to cosmetics and everything in between. Recently, advances in wetland technology have allowed for reed beds to be used on a greater scale with a smaller carbon footprint, thus maximising treatment levels whilst minimising unwanted pollution.

Meanwhile, the treatment of stripped-sour water (water that has been processed in the production of sour crude oil) is also undergoing some changes. Traditional methods involve gravitational separation (API) or dissolved air flotation (DAF) or dissolved gas flotation (DGF). The article A Novel Biological Approach for Treatment of Stripped-Sour Water looks at how these methods can be combined with an innovative technique to increase the efficiency and efficacy of the process. 



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