Assessment of estrogenic and androgenic activity in PM10 air samples from an urban, industrial and rural area in Flanders (Belgium) using the CALUX bioassay

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Endocrine disrupting chemicals represent a broad class of compounds, are widespread in the environment and can pose severe health effects.


The objective of this study was to investigate and compare the overall estrogen and androgen activating potential of PM10 air samples at an urban, rural and industrial location in Flanders, using a human in vitro cell bioassay.


PM10 samples were collected on glass fiber filters every six days between April 2013 and January 2014 using a high-volume sampler. Extraction was executed with a hexane/acetone mixture before analysis using a recombinant estrogen- or androgen responsive human carcinoma cell line. Results were expressed as bioanalytical equivalents (BEQs) per cubic meter of air.


High fluctuations in estrogenic activity were observed during the entire sampling period, with median BEQs of 32.1, 35.9 and 31.1 fg E2-Eq m−3 in the industrial, urban and rural background area, respectively. Estrogenic activity was measured in 70% of the samples, while no androgenic activity was observed in any of the samples. The estrogenic activity in the industrial area was positively correlated with the airborne concentration of the sum of the non-carcinogenic PAHs pyrene and fluoranthene (rho=0.48; p<0.01) and the sum of the carcinogenic PAHs (rho=0.36; p=0.05).


This study showed that no androgenic activity was present in PM10 and that although the median estrogenic activity was rather low and comparable in the three locations, high fluctuations in estrogenic response exist over time. While atmospheric PAHs contributed to the observed estrogenic response, especially in the industrial area, the chemicals responsible for the majority of estrogenic activity remain to be identified.

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