Thursday, February 28, 2008

Another Scientist's Take on Hermaphrodite Fish

I think we're all on the same page about the hermaphrodite fish surfacing in our waterways. In case you missed the first installment, Dr. Alan S. Kolok (an environmental toxicologist who's researched the effects of estrogenic compounds in wastewater treatment on the feminization of male fish) let Surely You Nest know that, although hormones are indeed untreated pollutants at this time, the real danger's not in the tap water we drink but the swimming holes we might choose. He convinced me to lose the bottled water, go back to the tap and resume filtering.

Up today is an interview with an environmental, analytical, and marine chemistry professor who's also studying estrogens in our waterways. My eternal gratitude to Dr. Yuegang Zuo, Professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Graduate School of Marine Sciences and Technology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, for taking the time to answer my questions. Dr. Zuo recently conducted a study entitled Monitoring Estrogenic Hormones - Undesired Fish Contraceptives, and Investigating Their Sources, Transportation and Fate in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. I so appreciate his taking the time to consider my basic questions about water quality and safety.

My quick-and-dirty on this interview? Dr. Zuo notes that, although they're not yet designed to remove hormones, current wastewater treatment processes
actually do take care of some percentage of the estrogens. Glad to hear it. Also, he notes that livestock operations in the Midwest actually are polluting drinking water sources with hormones (scratch the tapwater there, folks. And if you live in D.C., make sure your water's lead-free before jumping on the local water bandwagon). Sounds like on many fronts, more research is needed. Many thanks to Dr. Zuo and Dr. Kolok for the ongoing work they're doing to figure out the causes of intersex fish and ramifications of hormones in our waterways.


Dear Dr. Zuo:

Please forgive this intrusion into your professional life, but I am a resident of Washington, DC who is concerned about the large numbers of intersex fish in the Potomac. I've contacted my local officials and WASA, the local water authority, and was told that since this is an "emerging pollutant of concern" that's not covered by the Clean Water Act, no action's being taken to treat DC water.

Thank for your interest in the current research on estrogens and other endocrine disrupting pollutants in our aquatic environment. Your local officials and WASA were right that estrogens and other endocrine disrupting chemicals are a group of emerging environmental pollutants;

Furthermore, WASA indicated that there are no existing methods to treat wastewater to remove hormones. Just from surfing online, this seems not to be the case.

current waste water treatment processes are not designed to decompose these compounds; and they are not regulated by the environmental protection agency.

Do you know of cities in which wastewater treatment removes chemicals including estrogen?

Although the current waste water treatment processes are not designed to eliminate these pollutants, they do remove a significant fraction of these pollutant ranged from 10 ~ 90%. Both chlorination, UV-irradiation, microbial degradation and ozonation processes, which commonly used for the wastewater and drinking water treatment, can remove the concerned pollutants at least partially. However, the removal efficiency of the concerned pollutants has not been well studied yet.

Do you have any advice for me as I attempt to figure out a)how to get my water treatment facility to take this issue seriously?...and b)whether or not the hormones in my public water supply are of concern for my (small) children?

So far, most problems are associated with waste water effluents and livestock operation. Except sites contaminated by livestock operation in some Midwest locations, we have not noticed any drinking water contaminations by estrogenic hormones. To make sure, you may check if your city drinking water source is not contaminated by waste water effluents and livestock operation.

Best regards,

Yuegang Zuo, Ph.D.
Professor of Environmental, Analytical and Marine Chemistry

University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth

*photo courtesy of GNewman at sxc


katydidnot said...


Burbanmom said...

Thanks so much for the information! I never knew that cattle operations had anything to do with this issue! Just one more reason not to eat beef, I guess!

fari bradley said...

This is a subject I've been following since the around the late 80s when a town was advertised as a desirable place to live for young couples here in the UK.
It was given a huge publicity drive to get people to move there. So many young 'family planners' moved there. I remember finding the story in a newspaper that local fish had been turning hermaphrodite as a result of the all the female hormones in the water. This has long since bugged me that we allow this to happen. I will not take the pill for this reason. Probably that is not enough, but have no idea what kind of pressure group, apart from amybe Greenapeace, could do something about this.