Effective removal of chemical pollutants, such as endocrine disruptors from wastewater is an urgent need in order to protect both human and environmental health. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that alter the hormonal systems and the development of organisms that are exposed to them, even in small quantities. Researchers from the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) are working on an effluent analysis tool to predict their harmful effects. The researchers are working with municipal and industrial partners to monitor drinking water and wastewater to plan for potential infrastructure changes. “These methods could even identify where the contamination is coming from in a given area—whether it’s from agricultural, hospital, municipal, or industrial environments,” says Professor Valérie Langlois. Their testing method doesn’t involve animal testing instead it uses human cell lines, genetically modified in the laboratory to be sensitive to certain hormones. “When an endocrine disruptor activates the receptors on these cells, they emit a small light. That’s how we determine whether the wastewater could be posing a risk to the hormonal system,” explains Julie Robitaille, a doctoral student in water sciences.
The challenge in monitoring wastewater comes from the cocktail of endocrine disruptors it can contain. “You can’t just look at whether each individual substance is present. You need to analyze whether the entire mixture has any effect, since these contaminants can have different consequences when combined with other chemicals,” explains Julie. To test the effects of the pollutant mix, the researchers turned to bioassays, using the biological analyses to measure the reactions of their cell lines when exposed to wastewater samples, without knowing exactly which contaminants they contained.
Barton-Maclaren, T., Wade, M., Basu, N., Bayen, S., Grundy, J., Marlatt, V., Moore, R., Parent, L., Parrott, J., Grigorova, P., Pinsonnault-Cooper, J. and Langlois, V. (2022). Innovation in regulatory approaches for endocrine disrupting chemicals: The journey to risk assessment modernization in Canada. Environmental Research, 204, 112225. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2021.112225.