Assessment of biomarkers for contaminants of emerging concern on aquatic organisms downstream of a municipal wastewater discharge Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Contaminants of emerging concern (CECs), including pharmaceuticals, personal care products and estrogens, are detected in wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) discharges. However, analytical monitoring of wastewater and surface water does not indicate whether CECs are affecting the organisms downstream. In this study, fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) and freshwater mussels Pyganodon grandis Say, 1829 (synonym: Anodonta grandis Say, 1829) were caged for 4 weeks in the North Saskatchewan River, upstream and downstream of the discharge from the WWTP that serves the Edmonton, AB, Canada. Passive samplers deployed indicated that concentrations of pharmaceuticals, personal care products, an estrogen (estrone) and an androgen (androstenedione) were elevated at sites downstream of the WWTP discharge. Several biomarkers of exposure were significantly altered in the tissues of caged fathead minnows and freshwater mussels relative to the upstream reference sites. Biomarkers altered in fish included induction of CYP3A metabolism, an increase in vitellogenin (Vtg) gene expression in male minnows, elevated ratios of oxidized to total glutathione (i.e. GSSG/TGSH), and an increase in the activity of antioxidant enzymes (i.e. glutathione reductase, glutathione-S-transferase). In mussels, there were no significant changes in biomarkers of oxidative stress and the levels of Vtg-like proteins were reduced, not elevated, indicating a generalized stress response. Immune function was altered in mussels, as indicated by elevated lysosomal activity per hemocyte in P. grandis caged closest to the wastewater discharge. This immune response may be due to exposure to bacterial pathogens in the wastewater. Multivariate analysis indicated a response to the CECs Carbamazepine (CBZ) and Trimethoprim (TPM). Overall, these data indicate that there is a 1 km zone of impact for aquatic organisms downstream of WWTP discharge. However, multiple stressors in municipal wastewater make measurement and interpretation of impact of CECs difficult since water temperature, conductivity and bacteria are also inducing biomarker responses in both fish and mussels.


  • Jasinska, Edyta J
  • Goss, Greg G
  • Gillis, Patricia L
  • Van Der Kraak, Glen
  • Matsumoto, Jacqueline
  • de Souza Machado, Anderson A
  • Giacomin, Marina
  • Moon, Thomas W
  • Massarsky, Andrey
  • Gagné, Francois
  • Servos, Mark R
  • Wilson, Joanna
  • Sultana, Tamanna
  • Metcalfe, Chris D

publication date

  • October 2015