US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Environ. Sci. Technol. 2009, 43, 1902–1910.


Biodegradation of 17β-estradiol (E2), estrone (E1), and testosterone (T) was investigated in three wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) affected streams in the United States. Relative differences in the mineralization of [4-14C] substrates were assessed in oxic microcosms containing saturated sediment or water-only from locations upstream and downstream of the WWTP outfall in each system. Upstream sediment demonstrated significant mineralization of the “A” ring of E2, E1, and T, with biodegradation of T consistently greater than that of E2 and no systematic difference in E2 and E1 biodegradation. “A” ring mineralization also was observed in downstream sediment, with E1 and T mineralization being substantially depressed relative to upstream samples. In marked contrast, E2 mineralization in sediment immediately downstream from the WWTP outfalls was more than double that in upstream sediment. E2 mineralization was observed in water, albeit at insufficient rate to prevent substantial downstream transport. The results indicate that, in combination with sediment sorption processes which effectively scavenge hydrophobic contaminants from the water column and immobilize them in the vicinity of the WWTP outfall, aerobic biodegradation of reproductive hormones can be an environmentally important mechanism for nonconservative (destructive) attenuation of hormonal endocrine disruptors in effluent-affected streams.