Endocrine Disruption of Emerging Compounds in Municipal Wastewaters – Impacts to Wildfish in the St-Lawrence River

Principal Investigator - Michel Fournier, Professor, Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), 2013 - 2015

Endocrine Disruption of Emerging Compounds in Municipal Wastewaters – Impacts to Wildfish in the St-Lawrence River


Municipal wastewater effluent is globally recognized as a major source of contamination for aquatic biota living in receiving waters. These treated wastewaters contain a number of micropollutants, which are recognized to have estrogenic properties causing negative effects on aquatic organisms, including the disruption of sexual differentiation, immune systems, and reproduction. Various treatment processes exist that can help with the removal of pollutants, however there are improvements to be made to these treatment processes in Canada. There is a need to closely interact with end-users involved in treatment processes of wastewaters in attempt to optimize existing methods or implement new ones.

Montréal is a highly populated and industrialized city of over 2 million people. The city has one of the largest volume effluents in North America (2.5 million m3/day) with clear signs of impacts to wildfish. The treatment plant is scheduled for upgrades by way of adding ozone treatment in 2016.  This marks a great opportunity to measure ‘before and after’ conditions, and has potential national implications for wastewater treatment.

Within this project, a team of ecotoxicology and environmental chemistry experts, led by Dr. Michel Fournier, propose to determine the presence and effects of emerging chemicals in the St. Lawrence River, and whether these chemicals are able to compromise the endocrine systems of wildfish.


This study proposes to sample from 3 sites discharging wastewater effluent:  ‘high’ and ’low’ risks, including a reference site.  For this study, Montréal is selected as the ‘high’ risk site, as it is one of the largest contributors of wastewater effluent in terms of volume in North America, and it is only primary-treated.  Québec City is selected as the ‘low’ risk site. Though Québec City is the second most populated city in Québec, the city applies advanced treatment which includes high performance sand filtration and removal systems before being released in the St-Lawrence River.  The reference site is located upstream from Québec City in the green waters of seaway.

This study will be composed of the following three major steps:

1) analysis of the physical and chemical characterization of municipal wastewaters at each site

2) analysis of how organic matter collected at sites impact endocrine activity using in vitro fish and/or human cells as depicted (in vitro studies use components of an organism and isolate them from their usual biological surroundings in order to permit more detailed and convenient analysis).

3) analysis of how municipal effluent impacts wildfish, with an emphasis on minnow species, round goby and yellow perch.


Anticipated outputs include:

  • Workshop at the end of year two, which will involve the St. Lawrence River communities, along with any other groups or individuals interested in the project.
  • Meetings will be held twice per year with communities and stakeholders from City of Montreal, Québec City, Ministère du Développment Durable, de la Faune et des Parcs, Québec to share the knowledge as it is attained.
  • Presentations of results during meetings and workshops.


Anticipated Outcomes Include:

  • Increased knowledge on the performance of treatment methods toward ecosystem quality and impacts in aquatic ecosystems under stress.  Researchers plan on disseminating this information to partners within the St. Lawrence Action plan which involves, among others, Environment Canada, Health Canada, and the (MDDEFP).
  • Influence on regulations as the information generated from this project will provide recommendations to regulatory consortiums from Environment Canada, the MDDEFP, and the professionals involved in wastewater treatment plants.
  • Implementation of a network of collaboration between stakeholders from City of Montreal, Québec, Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environment, de la Faune et des Parcs.

Research Team

  • Michel Fournier, Professor, Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS)
  • Robert Cabana, Professor, L’Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières
  • André Lajeunesse, Professor, L’Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières
  • Franҫois Gagné, Research Scientist, Environment Canada
  • Sébastien Sauvé, Associate Professor, Université de Montréal
  • Shirley Ann Smyth, Engineer, Environment Canada
  • Patricia Gillis, Research Scientist, Environment Canada


  • City of Montréal
  • Quebec City
  • The ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement, de la Faune et des Parcs (MDDEFP),
  • Environment Canada,
  • St. Lawrence Action Plan,
  • Health Canada