Past studies have found that municipal or industrial wastewater has put harmful concentrations of Bisphenol-A (BPA), a hormone-disrupting chemical used in things like plastic food storage and beverage containers, into rivers and streams.
A new study assesses water quality near industrial sites permitted to release BPA into the air. The 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,” says Chris Kassotis, a doctoral candidate in the University of Missouri’s Division of Biological Sciences.
“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 environments.”
Water sampling sites in Missouri 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 control group.
The researchers then analyzed water 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,” says Don Tillitt, adjunct professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri 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 or wildlife.”
Concentrations of BPA measured in surface water near these sites were well above levels shown to cause adverse health effects in aquatic species, Kassotis says.
The study appears in the journal Science of the Total Environment, with funding from the University of Missouri, the US Geological Survey Contaminants Biology Program (Environmental Health Mission Area), and the US Environmental Protection Agency.
The views expressed are those of the authors and of the US Geological Survey; however, they are not the views of the US Environmental Protection Agency. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.