U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


Date of this Version



Published in Science of the Total Environment 409 (2011) 4720–4728. Doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2011.06.039


Stream flow in urban aquatic ecosystems often is maintained by water-reclamation plant (WRP) effluents that contain mixtures of natural and anthropogenic chemicals that persist through the treatment processes. In effluent-impacted streams, aquatic organisms such as fish are continuously exposed to biologically-active chemicals throughout their life cycles. The North Shore Channel of the Chicago River (Chicago, Illinois) is part of an urban ecosystem in which >80% of the annual flow consists of effluent from the North Side WRP. In this study, multiple samplings of the effluent and stream water were conducted and fish (largemouth bass and carp) were collected on 2 occasions from the North Shore Channel. Fish also were collected once from the Outer Chicago Harbor in Lake Michigan, a reference site not impacted by WRP discharges. Over 100 organic chemicals with differing behaviors and biological effects were measured, and 23 compounds were detected in all of the water samples analyzed. The most frequently detected and highest concentration (>100 μg/L) compounds were ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid and 4-nonylphenolmono-to-tetraethoxycarboxylic acids. Other biologically-active chemicals including bisphenol A, 4-nonylphenol, 4-nonylphenolmono-to-tetraethoxylates, 4-tert-octylphenol, and 4-tert-octylphenolmono-to-tetraethoxylates were detected at lower concentrations (<5 μg/L). The biogenic steroidal hormones 17β-estradiol, estrone, testosterone, 4- androstene-3,17-dione, and cis-androsterone were detected at even lower concentrations (<0.005 μg/L). There were slight differences in concentrations between the North Side WRP effluent and the North Shore Channel, indicating minimal in-stream attenuation. Fish populations are continuously exposed to mixtures of biologically-active chemicals because of the relative persistency of the chemicals with respect to stream hydraulic residence time, and the lack of a fresh water source for dilution. The majority of male fish exhibited vitellogenin induction, a physiological response consistent with exposure to estrogenic compounds. Tissue level signs of reproductive disruption, such as ovatestis, were not observed.