Characterisation of microcontaminants in Darwin Harbour, a tropical estuary of northern Australia undergoing rapid development

Veronica French, Susan King, A KUMAR, Grant Northcott, Keith Mcguinness, David Parry

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    The detection of microcontaminants in aquatic environments raises concerns about their potential to exert ecotoxicological effects and impact human health. In contrast to freshwater habitats, little information is available on environmental concentrations in urban estuarine and marine environments. This study investigated an extensive range of organic and inorganic microcontaminants in the Darwin Harbour catchment, a tropical estuary in northern Australia undergoing rapid urbanisation and industrial development. We sampled wastewater effluent and surface water from seven sites in Darwin Harbour for pharmaceuticals and personal care products, alkylphenols, hormones, pesticides, herbicides and metals. In vitro bioassays were used to estimate the (anti)estrogenic and (anti)androgenic activities of samples. Seventy-nine of 229 organic microcontaminants analysed were detected at concentrations ranging from 0.01 to 20 μg/L, with acesulfame, paracetamol, cholesterol, caffeine, DEET and iopromide detected at the highest concentrations in wastewater effluent (20 μg/L, 17 μg/L, 11 μg/L, 11 μg/L, 10 μg/L and 7.6 μg/L, respectively). Levels of estrogenic activity ranged from estradiol equivalency quotients (EEQs) of < 0.10 to 6.29 ± 0.16 ng/L while levels of androgenic activity ranged from dihydrotestosterone equivalency quotients (DHTEQs) of < 3.50 to 138.23 ± 3.71 ng/L. Environmental concentrations of organic microcontaminants were comparable to ranges reported from aquatic environments worldwide with sewage effluent discharges representing the dominant source of entry into Darwin Harbour. The measured concentration range of DEET was higher than ranges reported in previous studies.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)639-647
    Number of pages9
    JournalScience of the Total Environment
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015


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