Missouri: Water contamination by hormone-disrupting pollutants is threatening water quality around the world. Existing research has determined that harmful concentrations of Bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical used in consumer products such as plastic food storage and beverage containers, have been deposited directly into rivers and streams by municipal or industrial wastewater. Now, researchers from the University of Missouri and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have assessed Missouri water quality near industrial sites permitted to release BPA into the air. As a result, scientists now believe that atmospheric releases may create a concern for contamination of local surface water leading to human and wildlife exposure.
“There is growing concern that hormone disruptors such as BPA not only threaten wildlife, but also humans,” said Chris Kassotis,
a doctoral candidate in the Division of Biological Sciences in the
College of Arts and Science at MU. “Recent studies have documented
widespread atmospheric releases of BPA from industrial sources across
the United States. The results from our study provide evidence that
these atmospheric discharges can dramatically elevate BPA in nearby
Water sampling sites were selected based on their proximity to the
Superfund National Priorities List (NPL) or locations with reported
atmospheric discharges of BPA as identified by the Environmental
Protection Agency. Current or historical municipal wastewater treatment
sites, which have been shown in the past to contribute hormonally active
chemicals to surface water from urban or industrial sources, also were
tested. Finally, relatively clean sites were chosen to serve as the
The water then was analyzed for concentrations of BPA, Ethinyl
estradiol (EE2), an estrogen commonly used in oral contraceptive pills,
and several wastewater compounds. Scientists also measured the total
estrogen and receptor activities of the water. This approach is used to
measure all chemicals present in the water that are able to bind to and
activate (or inhibit) the estrogen or androgen receptors in wildlife and
humans. Levels of chemicals were highest in samples with known
wastewater treatment plant discharges.
“In addition, we were startled to find that BPA concentrations were
up to ten times higher in the water near known atmospheric release
sites,” said Don Tillitt,
adjunct professor of biological sciences at MU, and biochemistry and
physiology branch chief with the USGS Columbia Environmental Research
Center. “This finding suggests that atmospheric BPA releases may
contaminate local surface water, leading to greater exposure of humans
Concentrations of BPA measured in surface water near these sites were
well above levels shown to cause adverse health effects in aquatic
species, Kassotis said.
The study, “Characterization
of Missouri surface waters near point sources of pollution reveals
potential novel atmospheric route of exposure for bisphenol A and
wastewater hormonal activity pattern,” was published in the journal, Science of the Total Environment,
with funding from the University of Missouri, the U.S. Geological
Survey Contaminants Biology Program (Environmental Health Mission Area),
and STAR Fellowship Assistance Agreement no. FP-91747101 awarded by the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The views expressed are those of the authors and of the U.S.
Geological Survey; however, they are not the views of the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency. Any use of trade, firm, or product
names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by
the U.S. Government.