Edward Kolodziej, Ph.D.

In a nutshell: My research interests focus on providing clean, sustainable water for people and ecosystems. In more detail...

Water Reuse, Reclamation, and Contaminants of Emerging Concern

My research expertise is assessing the fate and transport of organic contaminants in the aquatic environment. Recent studies indicate that many surface waters, ground waters, and even drinking water supplies contain trace concentrations of numerous (many thousands!) organic contaminants. Why? The compounds we produce and use do not magically disappear when we are done with them, they will co-exist with us in our environment for days, months, years, and in some cases, even centuries. Did you know that many of the chemicals that you use will not only outlive you, but also your grandchildren, and in some cases, your grandchildren's grandchildren? True.

These contaminants include detergents, personal care products like sunscreens and fragrances, pharmaceuticals such as antidepressants and antibiotics, brominated flame retardants, steroid hormones, pesticides, and many other problematic compounds. With growing public recognition that these "contaminants of emerging concern" are widespread in the environment, and even present in drinking water, there is increasing public pressure to control the introduction of these contaminants into the environment. Very few engineered treatment systems were designed to remove trace concentrations of organic contaminants. Therefore, few of our existing control measures will efficiently control the release of these contaminants of emerging concern, implying that current engineered treatment systems need upgrading to more efficient treatment systems if control of trace organics is a priority. This may be our generation's infrastructure challenge: upgrading wastewater treatment systems beyond nutrients and bulk organic carbon removal.

In arid areas such as the Southwestern US, demographic shifts and increasing emigration have resulted in insufficient water supplies to meet current demand. To address this shortfall in water supply, large scale investment in water reuse and water reclamation systems is inevitable. However, the widespread observations of contaminants of emerging concern in receiving waters suggest that public acceptance of water reuse and reclamation is uncertain. Because most water reuse and reclamation systems recycle recalcitrant compounds along with water, it is likely that the problem of recalcitrant organic contaminants will be exacerbated by the growing use of these systems. Therefore, my interest in emerging contaminants and water reuse technologies focuses upon optimizing contaminant degradation in engineered water reuse systems. I am particularly interested in the optimization of in situ treatment technologies such as managed underground storage as sustainable, low energy, low infrastructure solutions to the problem of water reclamation.

Occurrence, Fate, and Transport of Steroid Hormones

Any concentration of vertebrates (e.g. humans, cattle, fish, birds) produces a local accumulation of endocrine active steroid hormones that can enter receiving waters and potentially affect aquatic organisms if not properly controlled. Sources of steroid hormones include municipal wastewater effluent and animal agricultural operations such as CAFOs or grazing livestock. These steroids include the endogenous steroids (steroids that are naturally produced) as well as exogenous compounds (man-made synthetics) such as pharmaceuticals and anabolic growth promoters such as trenbolone and melengestrol which are widely used in animal agriculture. In fact, most beef cattle in the U.S. are dosed with anabolic steroids to promote weight gain.

So why do environmental steroid hormones matter? Well, if you are a fish living in a receiving water with elevated concentrations of steroid hormones (or other endocrine disrupting compounds), you might find that your endocrine system has been "scrambled" a bit due to those contaminants. Does this sound like a positive or desirable outcome? Adverse effects include feminization of male fish, the masculinization of female fish, intersex gondal tissue, and Little Truckee River altered biochemistry and behavior along with many other effects. More importantly, endocrine active steroids can reduce fecundity, basically decreasing the number of viable eggs a female fish produces, at trace concentrations. These effects do not cause death or cancer, but instead alter the fitness, behavior, and most importantly, the reproductive potential of affected organisms. Over generations, populations of aquatic organisms exposed to endocrine disrupting contaminants are potentially smaller than populations of unexposed organisms due to reproductive disruption. Interestingly enough, this pattern of slow decline in population size despite no acute or chronic toxicity events is prevalent for many populations of aquatic organisms. Also, there are many studies using endocrine sensitive bioassays which demonstrate the widespread occurrence of endocrine activity in receiving waters, although the causative agents responsible for this endocrine activity are currently unknown. Could sublethal effects associated with endocrine disrupting contaminants like environmental steroids, or their transformation products, be responsible for these declines? I want to know.

My interest in endocrine disruption focuses upon identifying sources of steroid hormones and other endocrine disruptors, identifying their major transport and transformation pathways in the environment, and determining their persistence and degradation in the natural and engineered environment. Once we understand the sources of these compounds and their fate in the environment, we can optimize our engineered systems to remove them and protect ecosystem health if this is necessary. Examples of optimizing engineered systems might include the quantification and manipulation of steroid hormone attenuation mechanisms in municipal wastewater treatment plants, engineered treatment wetlands, agricultural systems, bioretention basins, and riparian buffer strips.

Agricultural Operations as Sources of Steroid Hormones

Did you know that the vast majority of beef cattle raised in the United States are implanted with potent anabolic steroids to improve their weight gain? Where do these compounds go? Based on the existing literature, the fate of these compounds in the environment is unclear, we are currently only accounting for a small fraction of the mass of these compounds used in animal agriculture. Numerous studies have detected steroids at elevated concentrations in watersheds with agricultural operations such as confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) or livestock grazing, and although researchers do report associations between animal agriculture and endocrine activity, there really doesn't seem to be a "smoking gun" contaminant responsible for these effects. For many years now, researchers have investigated agricultural sources of steroids by examining a relatively limited number of analytes with available standards and a narrow focus on specific endocrine pathways. I would like to investigate this question more broadly, by investigating the potential for structural conservation and retained bioactivity through environmental transformations across multiple endocrine endpoints. If our small subset of known endocrine disrupting steroids cannot account for the observed endocrine activity in receiving waters, it may be possible that transformation products and other non-target metabolites of known endocrine disrupting steroids retain bioactivity and explain these observations. Analytically, while our detection methods are extremely sensitive, they are also incredibly specific, thus it is possible that we simply cannot "see" many of the closely related steroidal structures likely present in these environments.

Hopefully, attenuation processes will adequately degrade these contaminants, reduce their bioactivity, and appropriate runoff management strategies will control the transport of these compounds, but whether these strategies truly minimize the risk to aquatic organisms is unknown. I simply do not believe that we understand these systems well enough yet, and we may be overlooking possible fate and transport outcomes. To assess the transport of synthetic steroid hormones on rangelands and to identify and quantify relevent degradation processes for synthetic steroid hormones, my laboratory, in conjunction with several other collaborators such as Dr. David Cwiertny (U. Iowa), Dr. Ken Tate (UC Davis), Dr. Chris Jeffrey (UNR), Dr. P. Lee Ferguson (Duke), Dr. Kris Wammer (U. St. Thomas), Dr. Adam Ward (U. Iowa) and Dr. Dan Schlenk (UC Riverside), is conducting several research studies on steroid fate, transformation, and transport.

Disruption of Pheromonal Signaling and Olfactory Communication

Over the last decade, the substantial body of research related to endocrine disruption has taught us one important lesson: Anthropogenic contaminants that interfere with biological signaling pathways related to reproduction can result in decreased population size and threaten ecological stability. Nearly all research on endocrine disruption has focused on disruption of mechanisms related to nuclear steroid hormone receptors. This mechanism of action is based upon contaminants partitioning from the surrounding water into the bloodstream of affected organisms, entering cell nuclei, binding to nuclear steroid receptors, and altering "normal" endocrine function, resulting in effects such as intersex or disrupted reproductive potential.

Observations of nuclear receptor mediated endocrine disruption in aquatic organisms suggest that at least some species of fish in contaminated locations are experiencing the disruption of endocrine function solely through olfactory receptor mechanisms because humans are undoubtedly discharging contaminants that bind to or interfere with olfactory function. If waterborne contaminants bind to olfactory receptors (no partitioning into the body or blood borne transport is necessary), secondary messenger signaling that acts to alter endocrine status in affected organisms is likely to occur. For example, it is well known that progestin pheromones regulate gonadotropin hormone (GtH) levels in some species of fish during reproductive periods. The regulation of gonadotropin hormone, a potent hormone and regulator of endocrine status, results in substantial alterations to biochemistry and behavior in responsive fish. I think it's very likely that humans are discharging progestin steroids or progestin-mimicking compounds, along with many other olfactory-active compounds, into receiving waters, implying that humans may be inadvertently disrupting biochemistry and behavior in sensitive species of fish through olfactory mechanisms, with potential adverse effects on fish reproduction similar to those observed through nuclear receptor mechanisms.

Potentially important olfactory disruptors include steroid hormones such as progestins, androstenedione, as well as compounds such as prostaglandins. Other contaminants such as metals and pesticides affect olfaction through physical damage of the olfactory bulb, removing the ability of affected organisms to respond to olfactory cues. As biologists and ecotoxicologists learn more about olfactory disruption and its effects, I expect that in some cases, efforts to insure the health of aquatic organisms would include an assessment of the potential for olfactory disruption in much the same way that the potential for endocrine disruption is assessed presently.

Trace Contaminants Removal in Algal Bioreactors for Biofuels Production

The available climate evidence seems to unequivocally suggest that we need to move beyond fossil carbon based energy production and we need to do so immediately. What will replace petroleum and coal based energy without adverse effects on the global economy? Algal biofuels are one potential element of the diverse and sustainable energy portfolio of the future, especially if the algae can be grown on low quality recycled carbon and nutrient sources such as treated municipal wastewater. This concept is the basis of the OMEGA biofuels system which utilizes conventionally treated municipal wastewater as the feedstock for algal bioreactors that also can produce biofuels. Working with Dr. Jonathan Trent (NASA), we are exploring the range of water quality improvements these algal bioreactors are capable of and the mechanisms responsible for contaminant reduction. Most studies to date suggest that algal biofuels production alone is not cost effective or energetically favorable. However, if the algal bioreactors also provide ancillary benefits such as wastewater treatment, these symbiotic systems may become economically viable options for fossil carbon replacement. Our goal is to evaluate this possibility, essentially by treating the algal bioreactors as a tertiary wastewater treatment system that incidentally produces carbon neutral biofuels. Sustainable treatment of municipal wastewater with algae is actually a very old concept, extensively investigated by another famous UC Berkeley researcher Dr. William Oswald as early as the 1950s. He may have been farther ahead of his time than he knew. Or maybe his work just proves the point that there are no new ideas, only ideas whose time has finally arrived.

Research Funding

1) Reversible Photohydration in Diene and Triene Steroids: A Mechanism for Unexpected Persistence of Unique, Biologically Active Contaminants. National Science Foundation. PI: Dr. David Cwiertny, University of Iowa. Co-Investigators: Dr. Edward P. Kolodziej, University of Nevada, Reno; Dr. P. Lee Ferguson, Duke University, Dr. Kristine H. Wammer, University of St. Thomas. Dr. Christopher Jeffrey, University of Nevada, Reno. Total Award $394,746. Kolodziej Lab: $118,281. 9/1/2013 - 8/31/2016.

2) Water Quality Implications of Unique Transformation Processes of Synthetic Steroids Used as Agricultural Pharmaceuticals. USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative; Water and Watersheds Program. PI: Dr. Edward P. Kolodziej, University of Nevada, Reno. Co-Investigators: Dr. David Cwiertny, U. Iowa; Dr. Adam Ward, U. Iowa; Dr. Chris Jeffrey, University of Nevada, Reno; Dr. Ken Tate, University of California, Davis. Total Award: $500,000. UNR Award: $262,076. 9/1/2013 - 8/31/2016.

3) NSF EPSCOR: Collaborative Research: The Western Consortium For Watershed Analysis, Visualization, and Exploration (WC-WAVE). National Science Foundation. PI Dr. Gayle Dana. Co-Investigators (NV Only): Dr. Sajjad Ahmed, Dr. Fred Harris, Dr. Scott Tyler, Dr. Tom Jackman, Dr. Edward Kolodziej, Dr Sergio Dasculu, Dr. Lynn Fenstermaker, Dr. Laurel Saito, Dr. Stephen Haroon. Total NV Award: $2,000,000. 8/1/2013 - 7/31/2016.

4) Contaminant Removal Using Membrane Distillation for Sustainable Drinking Water Treatment. Environmental Protection Agency Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Program. PI: Dr. Amy Childress, University of Nevada, Reno. Co-Investigators: Dr. Edward P. Kolodziej, University of Nevada, Reno; Dr. Chanwoo Park, University of Nevada, Reno. Total Award $499,743. Kolodziej Lab: $166,581. 8/1/2012 - 7/31/2015.

5) In Season Insecticide Control of Naval Orangeworm, Assessment of Application Coverage and Relative Environmental Stability of Insecticides: Fungal Metabolism on Nut Hulls. USDA/CA Almond Board. PI: Dr. Edward P. Kolodziej, University of Nevada, Reno. Total Award $58,959. 2/2013 - 12/2014.

6) OMEGA Biofuels Wastewater Derived Organic Contaminants Assessment. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. PI: Dr. Edward P. Kolodziej, University of Nevada, Reno. Total Award $32,807. 4/2012 - 5/2012.

7) Environmental Fate of Synthetic Growth Promoters Used in Animal Agriculture: Mechanistic Studies of Hormone Photolysis, Biodegradation and Sorption in Natural Systems. USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative; Water and Watersheds Program. PI: Dr. Edward P. Kolodziej, University of Nevada, Reno. Co-Investigators: Dr. David Cwiertny, U. Iowa; Dr. Eric Marchand, University of Nevada, Reno. Total Award: $399,945. UNR Award: $206,990. 1/1/2010 - 12/31/2012.

8) Transport and Mitigation of Beef Cattle Veterinary Pharmaceuticals and Hormones in Surface and Sub-surface Runoff from Grazed Watersheds. USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative; Water and Watersheds Program. PI: Dr. Ken Tate, UC Davis. Co-Investigators: Dr. Edward P. Kolodziej, University of Nevada, Reno; Dr. Robert Atwill, UC Davis; Dr. Arthur Craigmill, UC Davis; Dr. Toby O'Geen, UC Davis; Dr. Dirk Holstege, UC Davis. Total Award: $399,809. UNR Award: $141,041. 11/1/2009 - 10/31/2012.

9) Transport and Transformation of Natural and Synthetic Steroid Hormones at Beef Cattle and Dairy Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. Environmental Protection Agency Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Program. PI: Dr. David Sedlak, UC Berkeley. Co-Investigators: Dr. Edward P. Kolodziej, University of Nevada, Reno; Dr. Thomas Harter, UC Davis. Total Award $698,103. UNR Award: $210,360. 10/1/2007 - 9/30/2011.

10) Assessment and Optimization of Aquifer Recharge and Recovery Systems for the Removal of Trace Organic Contaminants. City of Reno, Nevada. PI: Dr. Edward P. Kolodziej, University of Nevada, Reno. Total Award: $138,974. 10/1/2008 - 12/31/2010.

11) Proposal for a Literature Review and Comment on Endocrine Disruptors and the Truckee River. City of Reno, Nevada. PI: Dr. Edward P. Kolodziej, University of Nevada, Reno. Total Award: $9,372. 10/1/2007 - 9/30/2008.

12) Junior Faculty Research Grant: Analysis of Synthetic Steroid Hormones used as Growth Promoters in Beef Cattle. University of Nevada, Reno. PI: Dr. Edward P. Kolodziej, University of Nevada, Reno. Total Award: $14,850. 5/1/2007 - 4/30/2009.