Aquatic Impact Assessment of Municipal Effluents (AIME)

Principal Investigator - Markus Hecker, Associate Professor, University of Saskatchewan
Challenge

In recent decades, national and international governments have established approaches and regulatory frameworks to assess the risks posed by endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), compounds that interfere with mammals’ hormonal (endocrine) systems. The endocrine system is a collection of glands that produce hormones to regulate metabolism, growth, tissue and sexual function, and development and reproduction, among other things.  Despite Canada's efforts  towards establishing standard test strategies and decision-making criteria for monitoring and assessing sources of EDCs to the environment, effluents from wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) have remained one of most predominant sources of EDCs to the environment. During conventional wastewater treatment, elimination of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), as well as natural hormones and other contaminants is often incomplete and inefficient. Given the potential environmental issues resulting from exposure to EDCs and other emerging contaminants downstream of WWTPs, this project proposes to use a set of techniques, or a “toolbox” developed by the Water Environment Research Foundation, to characterize and assess the potential effects of municipal wastewater effluent and its possible impacts on downstream aquatic organisms.

Project

Two sites in Saskatchewan will be investigated – Wascana Creek, downstream of the Regina WWTP, and the Saskatchewan River, downstream of the Saskatoon WWTP. Reference sites will be selected upstream of exposure locations to exclude impacts of different habitats and to improve comparability between reference and exposure sites. Both locations will be investigated using similar approaches, separated into three parallel tiers. In the first tier, effluents or downstream waters will be screened for toxicity using a suite of tests that will examine cell toxicity, as well as disruption of estrogen, testosterone or steroid hormone production. Using effect directed analysis, an approach that focuses on the identification and assessment of toxicants on the basis of adverse effects and exposure, will allow the researchers to observe the effects in fish.  Biological activity in one or more of the tests will trigger a second tier of testing that considers the reproductive success of the test fish species. Finally, a parallel laboratory experiment will be conducted at the University of Lethbridge to chemically characterize EDCs responsible for producing the biological effects seen in the first phase of testing.

Outputs

Anticipated outputs include:

  • This project will develop, evaluate and validate a tiered screening approach using predetermined techniques and tools that will enable efficient, economical, and relevant assessment of the toxicological risks of MWWEs for emerging contaminants.
  • Training of technical personnel of municipalities by hosting technical clinics
  • Final project symposium with all project partners and advisors including municipalities and decision makers to synthesize a feasible screening approach for potential future testing requirements. 
  • Presentations at national or international conferences such as the Aquatic Toxicity Workshop (ATW) and Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) meetings
  • Two to three multi-authored publications in leading, high-impact, peer-reviewed publications
Outcomes

Anticipated outcomes include:

  • Cost savings by minimizing the number of tests required and maximizing the identification of potential for adverse effects while also minimizing unnecessary testing.
  • Changes in policy as the identification of appropriate, effective public policy will protect the health of humans and wildlife while expending limited resources.
  • Despite a regional focus in Saskatchewan, the proposed project will have a national application as its outcomes will be applicable to WWTPs and receiving water bodies across the country. It is possible that Saskatchewan, with its extreme conditions representative of cold and dry seasonal scenarios, may even represent a worst-case scenario study.
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research team and partners:

Research Team

Markus Hecker, Associate Professor, University of Saskatchewan
Natacha Hogan, Assistant Professor, University of Saskatchewan
Steve Wiseman, Research Scientist, University of Saskatchewan
Paul Jones, Associate Professor, University of Saskatchewan
John Giesy, Professor, University of Saskatchewan
Chris Somers, Associate Professor, University of Regina
Alice Hontela, Professor, University of Lethbridge

Partners

University of Saskatchewan/Global Institute for Water Security,
City of Saskatoon,
City of Regina