Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Fish devastated by sex-changing chemicals in municipal wastewater

18.02.2008
While most people understand the dangers of flushing toxic chemicals into the ecosystem through municipal sewer systems, one potentially devastating threat to wild fish populations comes from an unlikely source: estrogen.

After an exhaustive seven-year research effort, Canadian biologists found that miniscule amounts of estrogen present in municipal wastewater discharges can decimate wild fish populations living downstream.

The research, led by Dr. Karen Kidd, an NSERC-funded biology professor at the University of New Brunswick (Saint John) and the Canadian Rivers Institute, confirms that synthetic estrogen used in birth control pills can wreak havoc on the sex lives of fish. Small amounts of estrogen are excreted naturally by women whether or not they are taking birth control pills.

Male fish exposed to estrogen become feminized, producing egg protein normally synthesized by females. In female fish, estrogen often retards normal sexual maturation, including egg production.

“We’ve known for some time that estrogen can adversely affect the reproductive health of fish, but ours was the first study to show the long-term impact on the sustainability of wild fish populations,” explains Kidd. “What we demonstrated is that estrogen can wipe out entire populations of small fish — a key food source for larger fish whose survival could in turn be threatened over the longer term.”

Kidd and her colleagues reported the findings last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. She is also presenting the research at the prestigious 2008 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Conference during a session entitled, From Kitchen Sinks to Ocean Basins: Emerging Chemical Contaminants and Human Health.

Estrogen is part of a broader class of sex-changing chemical compounds known as endocrine disrupting substances. These contaminants, also present in pulp mill effluents, can seriously interfere with normal hormonal processes, notes Kidd, the Canada Research Chair in Chemical Contamination of Food Webs.

To better understand the impacts of estrogen on fish, the researchers conducted a seven-year, whole-lake study at the Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario. Over three summers, they added tiny amounts — low parts per trillion — of the synthetic estrogen used in birth control pills to the lake to recreate concentrations measured in municipal wastewater.

During that period, they observed that chronic exposure to estrogen led to the near extinction of the lake’s fathead minnow population as well significant declines in larger fish, such as pearl dace and lake trout.

“Generally, the smaller the fish, the more vulnerable they are to estrogen,” remarks Kidd.

Part of the reason, she adds, is that smaller fish have a shorter lifespan and will often die after reproducing only once.

The researchers used synthetic estrogen because it tends to persist longer in the environment than natural estrogens. Yet the problem with estrogen is not its environmental persistence but rather its persistent discharge in municipal wastewater into surface waters.

Kidd says the risk is greatest for aquatic ecosystems downstream from municipalities that either discharge untreated wastewater or maintain only primary treatment facilities. On the flipside, the problem is of less concern near cities that remove a wide range of chemical contaminants, including estrogens, from wastewater using secondary and tertiary treatment processes.

It is now understood, she says, that removing estrogen through wastewater treatment can reverse the adverse impact of this substance/hormone on wild fish. In fact, three years after halting additions of synthetic estrogen to the experimental lake, the researchers discovered that the fathead minnow population was on the rebound.

“To me, that’s the good news. Once you take the stressor out the system, we now have ample evidence that suggests affected fish populations will recover.”

Doré Dunne | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nserc.ca

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Project provides information on energy recovery from agricultural residues in Germany and China
13.02.2020 | Deutsches Biomasseforschungszentrum

nachricht New exhaust gas measurement registers ultrafine pollutant particles for the first time
21.01.2020 | Technische Universität Graz

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A step towards controlling spin-dependent petahertz electronics by material defects

The operational speed of semiconductors in various electronic and optoelectronic devices is limited to several gigahertz (a billion oscillations per second). This constrains the upper limit of the operational speed of computing. Now researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter in Hamburg, Germany, and the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay have explained how these processes can be sped up through the use of light waves and defected solid materials.

Light waves perform several hundred trillion oscillations per second. Hence, it is natural to envision employing light oscillations to drive the electronic...

Im Focus: Freiburg researcher investigate the origins of surface texture

Most natural and artificial surfaces are rough: metals and even glasses that appear smooth to the naked eye can look like jagged mountain ranges under the microscope. There is currently no uniform theory about the origin of this roughness despite it being observed on all scales, from the atomic to the tectonic. Scientists suspect that the rough surface is formed by irreversible plastic deformation that occurs in many processes of mechanical machining of components such as milling.

Prof. Dr. Lars Pastewka from the Simulation group at the Department of Microsystems Engineering at the University of Freiburg and his team have simulated such...

Im Focus: Skyrmions like it hot: Spin structures are controllable even at high temperatures

Investigation of the temperature dependence of the skyrmion Hall effect reveals further insights into possible new data storage devices

The joint research project of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that had previously demonstrated...

Im Focus: Making the internet more energy efficient through systemic optimization

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, recently completed a 5-year research project looking at how to make fibre optic communications systems more energy efficient. Among their proposals are smart, error-correcting data chip circuits, which they refined to be 10 times less energy consumptive. The project has yielded several scientific articles, in publications including Nature Communications.

Streaming films and music, scrolling through social media, and using cloud-based storage services are everyday activities now.

Im Focus: New synthesis methods enhance 3D chemical space for drug discovery

After helping develop a new approach for organic synthesis -- carbon-hydrogen functionalization -- scientists at Emory University are now showing how this approach may apply to drug discovery. Nature Catalysis published their most recent work -- a streamlined process for making a three-dimensional scaffold of keen interest to the pharmaceutical industry.

"Our tools open up whole new chemical space for potential drug targets," says Huw Davies, Emory professor of organic chemistry and senior author of the paper.

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

70th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting: Around 70 Laureates set to meet with young scientists from approx. 100 countries

12.02.2020 | Event News

11th Advanced Battery Power Conference, March 24-25, 2020 in Münster/Germany

16.01.2020 | Event News

Laser Colloquium Hydrogen LKH2: fast and reliable fuel cell manufacturing

15.01.2020 | Event News

 
Latest News

Active droplets

21.02.2020 | Medical Engineering

Finding new clues to brain cancer treatment

21.02.2020 | Health and Medicine

Beyond the brim, Sombrero Galaxy's halo suggests turbulent past

21.02.2020 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>