Endocrine disrupting chemicals accumulate in earthworms exposed to sewage effluent

Shai Markman, Irina A. Guschina, Sara Barnsley, Katherine L. Buchanan, David Pascoe, Carsten T. Müller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) can alter endocrine function in exposed animals. Such critical effects, combined with the ubiquity of EDCs in sewage effluent and potentially in tapwater, have led to concerns that they could be major physiological disruptors for wildlife and more controversially for humans. Although sewage effluent is known to be a rich source of EDCs, there is as yet no evidence for EDC uptake by invertebrates that live within the sewage treatment system. Here, we describe the use of an extraction method and GC-MS for the first time to determine levels of EDCs (e.g., dibutylphthalate, dioctylphthalate, bisphenol-A and 17β-estradiol) in tissue samples from earthworms (Eisenia fetida) living in sewage percolating filter beds and garden soil. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first such use of these techniques to determine EDCs in tissue samples in any organism. We found significantly higher concentrations of these chemicals in the animals from sewage percolating filter beds. Our data suggest that earthworms can be used as bioindicators for EDCs in these substrates and that the animals accumulate these compounds to levels well above those reported for waste water. The potential transfer into the terrestrial food chain and effects on wildlife are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-125
Number of pages7
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 2007
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Mike O’Reilly for his help during the study and Kirsty Park for discussion of the project. We also acknowledge the cooperation of Wessex Water, United Utilities and Welsh Water in allowing sampling from their sewage filter beds and provision of the flow rate data. This project was supported by BBSRC Research Grant.


  • Earthworms
  • Eisenia fetida
  • Endocrine disruptors
  • Sewage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • General Chemistry
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry


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