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Novel use of faecal sterols to assess human faecal contamination in Antarctica: a likelihood assessment matrix for environmental monitoring

  • Rhys Leeming (a1), Jonathan S. Stark (a2) and James J. Smith (a3) (a4)

Wastewater containing human sewage is often discharged with little or no treatment into the Antarctic marine environment. Faecal sterols (primarily coprostanol) in sediments have been used for assessment of human sewage contamination in this environment, but in situ production and indigenous faunal inputs can confound such determinations. Using gas chromatography with mass spectral detection profiles of both C27 and C29 sterols, potential sources of faecal sterols were examined in nearshore marine sediments, encompassing sites proximal and distal to the wastewater outfall at Davis Station. Faeces from indigenous seals and penguins were also examined. Faeces from several indigenous species contained significant quantities of coprostanol but not 24-ethylcoprostanol, which is present in human faeces. In situ coprostanol and 24-ethylcoprostanol production was identified by co-production of their respective epi-isomers at sites remote from the wastewater source and in high total organic matter sediments. A C29 sterols-based polyphasic likelihood assessment matrix for human sewage contamination is presented, which distinguishes human from local fauna faecal inputs and in situ production in the Antarctic environment. Sewage contamination was detected up to 1.5 km from Davis Station.

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Antarctic Science
  • ISSN: 0954-1020
  • EISSN: 1365-2079
  • URL: /core/journals/antarctic-science
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