Removing Hormones from Water: The Role of Activated Carbon and Polymer Membranes

21st-century issues include clean water. Steroid hormones damage water as micropollutants. Steroid hormones, included in medicines and contraceptives, can harm persons and the environment even at low concentrations of a few nanograms per liter in the treated effluent. Low concentration and small size make these steroid hormones hard to detect and remove. Conventional sewage treatment cannot remove them from water supplies.

KIT researchers developed a new solution to this issue. They developed a polymer membrane-activated carbon filter that removes steroid hormones from wastewater quickly and efficiently. It uses activated carbon and polymer membranes. After passing through a semipermeable barrier to remove larger contaminants and pathogens, water travels through carbon particles that bind hormone molecules. Researchers improved this process with Blücher GmbH filters. KIT’s IFG, IAM, and KNMF characterized this method to improve it. This innovative method promises a sustainable answer to steroid hormones in the water.

European Commission Reference Value Reached

KIT researchers discovered a simple yet successful approach to extracting steroid hormones from wastewater using activated carbon and polymer membranes. A semipermeable polymer membrane filters bigger contaminants and pathogens from water. The hormone-binding activated carbon particles pass the water. This technique uses polymer-based spherical activated carbon particles (PBSAC). It’s fast, energy-efficient, and waste-free.

The approach meets the European Commission’s reference level of 1 nanogram of estradiol per liter of drinking water. This is significant since this criterion is safe for human consumption. A 2-mm activated carbon layer with 80-micrometre carbon particles removes 96% of water estradiol. Raising activated carbon-oxygen content improves adsorption kinetics and estradiol separation efficiency to over 99%. This scalable method can be used in factories’ taps for large-scale water purification.

Size and Oxygen Concentration Matter

Water steroid hormone adsorption depends on carbon particle size and oxygen content. Water molecules cling to activated carbon particles through the adsorption process. The smaller the carbon particle diameter, the activated carbon layer’s hormone-adsorbing surface is wider. Smaller particle diameters allow more carbon particles to touch hormone molecules, increasing adsorption effectiveness.

On a 2-mm activated carbon layer, water estradiol was eliminated by 96% when the particle diameter was lowered from 640 to 80 micrometers. Increasing activated carbon-oxygen content boosts adsorption kinetics and estradiol separation efficiency to over 99%. Since oxygen concentration increases oxygen-containing functional groups on the carbon surface, hormone molecules attach better to carbon particles.

Micropollutants in Water Supply

Water micropollutants are a global environmental issue. Little and hard to detect, these pollutants can harm humans and the environment. Lead, hormones, and microplastics are water micropollutants.

Water hormones can cause birth defects, infertility, and cardiovascular illness. Water contains hormones from pharmaceutical and contraceptive products, and those who dispose of whole boxes of these products. Traditional sewage treatment procedures don’t eliminate these hormones.

EDCs in water, especially steroid hormones, can disrupt the endocrine system and cause developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immunological consequences in humans and wildlife. EDCs’ endocrine system impacts might be mild yet lifelong.

Hormones in Water

In recent years, water hormones have garnered notice. Traditional sewage treatment cannot eliminate hormones from the water source. Hormones are tiny and low-concentrated, making them hard to detect and remove. Some people dispose of complete boxes of medication and contraceptives, which release hormones into the sewer.

Hormones in water affect human and environmental health. Hormone imbalance causes birth defects, infertility, and cardiovascular illness. Hormones can alter wildlife reproduction and development. 50% of male river fish have changed sex due to pollution, and 25% have faulty sperm.

Water filters that can remove hormones from water

Hormones can be removed from water by numerous water filters.

Reverse osmosis filters filter water. This filter removes hormones from water using a semipermeable membrane. Reverse osmosis filters force water through a membrane to catch contaminants. Reverse osmosis filters can pass through the membrane and catch hormones on the other side.

Activated carbon water filters also extract hormones. Activated carbon is porous carbon that absorbs contaminants. Water passes through activated carbon filters, which bind hormone molecules and remove them. Under-sink, countertop, and whole-house water filters use activated carbon filters.

Ion exchange water filters remove hormones. Ion exchange resin beads remove ions in this filter. These hormone-binding resins extract hormones from water.


Finally, water micropollutants, especially steroid hormones, are an increasing concern. KIT researchers created a polymer membrane-activated carbon filtering technology to extract steroid hormones from wastewater. This approach meets the European Commission’s one nanogram estradiol per liter drinking water requirement.

This approach requires more investigation and development. The KIT researchers have made substantial progress in extracting steroid hormones from water, but they must continue to test and enhance the approach to ensure its large-scale efficacy. This technology should be used in current water treatment facilities to ensure clean, safe water for everyone.

Note that other water filters, including reverse osmosis, activated carbon, and ion exchange, can also remove hormones from water. New methods for removing micropollutants from water, including steroid hormones, must be developed to preserve human health and the environment.