Fate of estrogens in a municipal sewage treatment plant

Henrik Rasmus Andersen, Hansruedi Siegrist, Bent Halling-Sørensen, Thomas A. Ternes

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The fate of the highly potent endocrine disrupters estrone (El), 17beta-estradiol (E2), and 17alpha-ethinylestradiol (EE2) was investigated in mechanical and biological sewage treatment as well as in sewage-sludge treatment at a municipal German sewage treatment plant (STP). The main outcome of the study was that a common municipal STP with an activated sludge system for nitrification and denitrification including sludge recirculation can appreciably eliminate natural and synthetic estrogens. As a consequence, the endocrine effects of biota in the receiving waters should be significantly reduced. All estrogen concentrations decreased gradually along the treatment train. In the STP effluent, the steroid estrogen concentrations were always below the quantification limit of 1 ng/L. The elimination efficiency of the natural estrogens (E1 and E2) exceeded 98%, and EE2 was reduced by more than 90%. The natural estrogens were largely degraded biologically in the denitrifying and aerated nitrifying tanks of the activated sludge system, whereas EE2 was only degraded in the nitrifying tank. Only about 5% of the estrogens are sorbed onto digested sewage sludge. It is very likely that conjugates (glucuronides and sulfates) of the estrogens were cleaved into the parent compounds mainly in the first denitrification tank.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Issue number18
Pages (from-to)4021-4026
Publication statusPublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes


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