By Hilary White
ST. JOHN, New Brunswick, February 18, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A study by Dr. Karen Kidd, of the University of New Brunswick and the Canadian Rivers Institute, found that estrogen from birth control pills flooding into the water system through sewage adversely affects fish populations.
The researchers added estrogen to an experimental lake at a level commonly found in the treated wastewater from cities with about 200,000 people. The researchers discovered that one consequence is that exposed male fish become feminized, producing a protein normally found in females. Chronic exposure to estrogen led to the near extinction of the lake’s fathead minnow population, as well as significant declines in larger fish, such as pearl dace and lake trout.
"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 also noted that once the estrogen levels in the water were lowered, fish populations rebounded after three years. "Once you take the stressor out the system, we now have ample evidence that suggests affected fish populations will recover," she said.
Kidd is preparing a report for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) titled, "From Kitchen Sinks to Ocean Basins: Emerging Chemical Contaminants and Human Health".
In the 1980’s and 90’s, municipalities in Canada and elsewhere began stencilling pictures of fish next to storm drains to remind citizens that toxic chemicals - such as paint and motor oil - poured into the sewers would harm the environment and wildlife. In 1998, a trendy industrial designer in San Francisco won an award for creating storm drain grates shaped like fish.
Health authorities estimate that 100 million women worldwide take some form of hormonal contraceptives; but there is still little media attention given to the growing concerns of scientists about its environmental impact. However, studies are leaking out into the mainstream press more frequently as public interest in the environment grows.
The Pill, along with numerous other commonly used chemicals, end up in the water system as estrogen. At a conference on breast cancer in Toronto in 1998, author and cancer surgeon Dr. Susan Love said, "Pollutants are metabolized in our bodies as estrogen. And it is lifetime exposure to estrogen that has increased world cancer rates by 26% since 1980….We live in a toxic soup of chemicals".
Studies are also showing significant evidence for a link between environmental estrogens and estrogen-like chemical pollutants and the earlier onset of puberty in girls.
The phenomenon of early-onset puberty in American girls is so pervasive, that the Lawson Wilkins Pediatric Endocrine Society urged changing the definition of abnormal development. Ten years ago, breast development at age 8 was considered abnormally early, but a study in 1997 said that among 17,000 girls in North Carolina, almost half of blacks and 15 percent of whites had begun breast development by age 8. Studies from the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand have shown similar results.
The new definition for abnormally early breast development ought to be, the society says, 7 for white girls and 6 for black girls. Marcia Herman-Giddens, adjunct professor at the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina, said, "My fear is that medical groups could take the data and say ‘This is normal. We don’t have to worry about it.’ My feeling is that it is not normal. It’s a response to an abnormal environment."
Conclusive studies are difficult to conduct, however, because of the all-pervasive nature of the environmental contamination. With all the estrogen-like elements in the environment, Herman-Giddens said, "it’s virtually impossible to study. There’s no place to find an unexposed population."
Read related LifeSiteNews.com coverage:
Hormonal Contraceptives Pollute Drinking Water - Environmentalists Turn a Blind Eye