Measuring free, conjugated, and halogenated estrogens in secondary treated wastewater effluent. Academic Article uri icon


  • Steroidal estrogens are potent endocrine-disrupting chemicals that enter natural waters through the discharge of treated and raw sewage. Because estrogens are detrimental to aquatic organisms at sub-nanogram per liter concentrations, many studies have measured so-called "free" estrogen concentrations in wastewater effluents, rivers, and lakes. Other forms of estrogens are also of potential concern because conjugated estrogens can be easily converted to potent free estrogens by bacteria in wastewater treatment plants and receiving waters and halogenated estrogens are likely produced during wastewater disinfection. However, to the best of our knowledge, no studies have concurrently characterized free, conjugated, and halogenated estrogens. We have developed a method that is capable of simultaneously quantifying free, conjugated, and halogenated estrogens in treated wastewater effluent, in which detection limits were 0.13-1.3 ng L(-1) (free), 0.11-1.0 ng L(-1) (conjugated), and 0.18-18 ng L(-1) (halogenated). An aqueous phase additive, ammonium fluoride, was used to increase the electrospray (negative mode) ionization efficiency of free and halogenated estrogens by factors of 20 and 2.6, respectively. The method was validated using treated effluent from the greater Boston metropolitan area, where conjugated and halogenated estrogens made up 60-70% of the steroidal estrogen load on a molar basis.

publication date

  • 2014