In order to identify the dominant contributors to estrogenic activity in environmental waters, a comprehensive fractionation method using silica gel column chromatography, combined with recombinant yeast assay for detecting estrogenic activity and with gas chromatography-mass spectrometry for quantifying endocrine disruptors and natural estrogens, was developed. The method was applied to the municipal sewage treatment plant (STP) secondary effluent discharged to the Tamagawa River in Tokyo, Japan, where endocrine disruption was observed in wild carp. The instrumental analysis demonstrated that averaged concentrations of nonylphenol, bisphenol A, estrone (E1), and 17β-estradiol (E2) were 564 ± 127, 27 ± 19, 33 ± 11, and 4.6 ± 3.0 ng/L, respectively. Based on the concentration and relative potency of these compounds, the natural estrogens E1 and E2 represented more than 98% of the total estrogen equivalent concentration (EEQ) in the STP effluent, while the contribution of phenolic compounds to total EEQ was less than 2%. Estrogenic activities associated with the dissolved phase of the effluent samples were detected by a recombinant yeast assay. By using silica gel column chromatography, the dissolved phase was separated into several fractions that were subjected to the bioassay. The polar fractions exhibited estrogenic activity. The greatest estrogenic activity was found in a polar fraction containing E1 and E2 and represented 66 to 88% of the total estrogenic activities estimated from the bioassay data. These results lead to the conclusion that E1 and E2 were the dominant environmental estrogens in the STP effluent, but a significant contribution to estrogenic activities stems from unidentified components in the effluents.
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