Municipal wastewater effluent exposure disrupts early development, larval behavior, and stress response in zebrafish

Effects of waste watereffluent in zebrafish different life-stages




• Municipal wastewater effluent (MWWE) contains pharmaceutically-active compounds.
• MWWE delays somitogenesis and hatching rates in embryonic zebrafish.
• Short-term exposures to MWWE alters zebrafish embryo and larval behaviors.
• MWWE dulls the cortisol and lactate stress response in juvenile zebrafish.
• Zebrafish at various lifestages are a sensitive model for assessing MWWE toxicity.



While wastewater treatment standards have been progressively increasing, emerging contaminants such as pharmaceuticals can nonetheless pass through treatment and end up in our watersheds. Pharmaceuticals in the parts-per-billion range can impact fish behavior, survival, and recruitment in the wild. However, the ecological risk posed by whole municipal wastewater effluents (MWWE), a complex mixture, is not clear. This knowledge gap is particularly evident for early lifestages (ELS) of fish, and because effluent discharge events are typically short, the effects of short-term MWWE exposures to ELS fish are particularly important from an environmental perspective. Here we tested the effects of rapid 30-min exposures, and short-term 24- and 72-h exposures to MWWE on development, behaviors, and stress response in zebrafish (Danio rerio) embryos, larvae, and juveniles. We obtained 24-h composite samples of tertiary-treated MWWE that contained a mixture of chemicals with affinities for serotonergic, adrenergic, dopaminergic, and ion-channel receptors. Embryos exposed to 5%, 10%, and 50% MWWE experienced developmental delays in somitogenesis and hatching rate, although there was no effect on survival. Embryonic photomotor responses were affected following 30-min and 24-h exposures to 10% and 50% MWWE, and larval visual motor responses were reduced from 24-h exposure to 10% MWWE. Exposure to 10% MWWE dulled the juvenile cortisol and lactate response following an acute air-exposure. Compromised behavioral and stress performances demonstrate the capacity of MWWE to impact phenotypes critical to the survival of fish in the environment. Taken together, we found that zebrafish were sensitive to toxic effects of MWWE at multiple life-stages.


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