Natural enzymes filter hormone-disrupting chemicals from sewage

A new filtration system that uses natural molecules to remove hormone-affecting chemicals from wastewater has succeeded in trapping 95 % of these substances before the water goes back into the environment.

It’s part of a wave of research into new ways of protecting us against so-called endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which also includes working on different types of fertilisers and training a new generation of researchers to better identify health risks.

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Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s hormone system and produce adverse effects in both humans and wildlife. Some derive from natural sources such as plants, while others are chemicals synthesised for industrial or household products, like pesticides, flame retardants, or pharmaceuticals. Long-term exposure has been linked to medical conditions such as cancer or birth defects.

Pharmaceuticals that are designed to influence the hormone system and are then excreted from the body are one example of how endocrine disruptors can get into the environment, and work is now underway to minimise their impact.

‘When we design medicines, we want them to have a long-lasting effect in the body,’ said Martin Ryen, CEO of Swedish company Pharem Biotech. ‘That also makes it very hard to break them down in wastewater.’

As part of the EU-funded DePharm project, Pharem Biotech has designed a new way of removing endocrine-disrupting chemicals in water treatment plants and have succeeded in trapping over 95 % of those transiting through a sewage treatment plant in Stockholm, Sweden.

Fungi and microbes

Their system involves using enzymes extracted from fungi and microbes to react with endocrine disruptors flushed down water pipes, and dismember them into harmless pieces. The filtering enzymes stay submerged and purify the water flowing through them.

‘Natural enzymes are very good at breaking stuff down,’ said Ryen. And they do so autonomously, in a ‘circular, catalytic process. Enzymes don’t get used up. They don’t consume energy or require new raw materials.’


Natural enzymes filter hormone-disrupting chemicals from sewage

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