Healthy Coastal Ecosystems: Are Sewage-Derived Steroidal Estrogens a Problem in Massachusetts Bay?

Elizabeth Kujawinski, Marine Chemistry & Geochemistry



In the last two decades, synthetic estrogens in aquatic environments have received a great deal of attention. Most research has been directed at characterizing the distribution and toxicity of “free” synthetic estrogens in sewage, rivers, and estuaries. Despite thousands of published studies on estrogens and endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the environment, we remain relatively uninformed about the presence, sources, and fate of steroidal estrogens in coastal ecosystems that receive large sewage inputs. We know even less about conjugated and chlorinated estrogen derivatives, which may play an important role in the fate and hazard of estrogenic compounds in the coastal ocean. This project, for David Griffith's thesis, seeks to fill this gap by characterizing a broad suite of natural and synthetic estrogens and their conjugated and chlorinated derivatives in a major sewage discharge and the receiving waters of Massachusetts Bay. This is a critical step towards developing predictive models that can help us design effective mitigation strategies and evaluate potential adverse effects of steroidal estrogens and other low-level contaminants before they become serious problems for coastal ecosystems. This goal is within reach and has the potential to fundamentally change the way we manage healthy coastal ecosystems.