Predicting the concentration range of unmonitored chemicals in wastewater-dominated streams and in run-off from biosolids-amended soils

Bipin P. Chari, Rolf Halden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Organic compounds such as sterols and hormones have been detected in surface waters at ecologically relevant concentrations with sources including effluent discharged from publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) as well as leachate and runoff from land amended with municipal sludge (biosolids). Greater than 20% of regulated effluents discharged into U.S. surface waters experience in-stream dilution of < 10-fold and potential impacts are particularly likely in receiving waters dominated by POTW effluents. The increasing use of biosolids on agricultural land exerts additional stress, thereby necessitating environmental monitoring for potential ecological and human health effects. Alternatively or in addition to monitoring efforts, screening for potentially hazardous chemicals can be performed using empirical models that are scalable and can deliver results rapidly. The present study makes use of data from U.S. EPA's Targeted National Sewage Sludge Survey (TNSSS) to predict the aqueous-phase concentrations and removal efficiencies of 10 sterols (campesterol, β-sitosterol, stigmasterol, β-stigmastanol, cholesterol, desmosterol, cholestanol, coprostanol, epicoprostanol, and ergosterol) as well as the putative toxicity posed by four specific hormones based on their reported biosolids concentrations using published empirical models. Model predictions indicate that removal efficiencies for sterols are uniformly high (~. 99%) and closely match removal rates calculated from chemical monitoring at POTWs (paired t-test; p= 0.01). Results from toxicity modeling indicate that the hormones estrone, estradiol and estriol had the highest leaching potentials amongst the compounds considered here and that 17 β-ethinylestradiol was found to pose a potentially significant threat to fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) via run-off or leaching from biosolids-amended fields. This study exemplifies the use of in silico analysis to (i) identify potentially problematic organic compounds in biosolids, (ii) predict influent and effluent levels for hydrophobic organic compounds (HOCs) of emerging concern, and (iii) provide initial estimates of runoff concentrations, in this case for four prominent hormones known to act as endocrine disruptors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)314-320
Number of pages7
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Dec 1 2012


  • Biosolids
  • Endocrine disruption
  • Hormones
  • Modeling
  • Sterols

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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