Plasticizers such as phthalate esters (PAEs) and bisphenol A (BPA) are highly persistent organic pollutants that tend to bio-accumulate in humans through the soil-plant-animal food chain. Some studies have reported the potential carcinogenic and teratogenic effects in addition to their estrogenic activities. Water resources are scarce in Saudi Arabia, and several wastewater treatment plants (WTPs) have been constructed for agricultural and industrial use. This study was designed to: (1) measure the concentrations of BPA and six PAEs, dimethyl phthalate (DMP), diethyl phthalate (DEP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP), bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and dioctyl phthalate (DOP), in secondary- and tertiary-treated wastewater collected from five WTPs in three Saudi cities for four to five weeks and (2) test their potential genotoxicity. Three genotoxicological parameters were used: % tail DNA (%T), tail moment (TM) and percentage micronuclei (%MN). Both DBP and DEHP were detected in all treated wastewater samples. DMP, DEP, BBP, DOP, and BPA were found in 83.3, 84.2, 79, 73.7 and 97.4% of the samples, respectively. The levels of DMP (p<0.001), DOP (p<0.001) and BPA (p=0.001) were higher in tertiary- treated wastewater than secondary-treated wastewater, perhaps due to the influence of the molecular weight and polarity of the chemicals. Both weekly sampling frequency and WTP locations significantly affected the variability in our data. Treated wastewater from Wadi Al-Araj was able to induce DNA damage (%T and TM) in human lymphoblastoid TK6 cells that was statistically higher than wastewater from all other WTPs and in untreated TK6 cells (negative control). %MN in samples from both Wadi Al-Araj and Manfouah did not differ statistically but was significantly higher than in the untreated TK6 cells. This study also showed that the samples of tertiary-treated wastewater had a higher genotoxicological potential to induce DNA damage than the samples of secondary-treated wastewater. BPA and some PAEs in the treated wastewater might have the potential to induce genetic damage, despite their low levels. Genotoxicity, however, may also have been due to the presence of other contaminants. Our preliminary findings should be of concern to Saudi agriculture because long-term irrigation with treated wastewater could lead to the accumulation of PAEs and BPA in the soil and ultimately reach the human and animal food chain. WTPs need to remove pollutants more efficiently. Until then, a cautious use of treated wastewater for irrigation is recommended to avoid serious health impacts on local populations.
article; Treated wastewater; Phthalate esters; Bisphenol A; Irrigation; Genotoxicity; DNA damage; dibutyl phthalate; dimethyl phthalate; estrogenic properties; food chain; molecular weight; persistent organic pollutants; plasticizers; teratogenicity; wastewater; wastewater irrigation; wastewater treatment; water resources; Saudi Arabia