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Fish devastated by sex-changing chemicals in municipal wastewater
Date:2/16/2008

This release is also available in French.

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.

Weve 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.

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Contact: Dor Dunne
dore.dunne@nserc.ca
613-851-8677
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council
Source:Eurekalert

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