Monday, October 04, 2004

Contraceptives Ending Up in Drinking Water

Fertility Control Agents

Drugs and personal care products that are excreted from or washed off the body naturally end up in the sewage that flows into sewer systems and septic tanks, but where do they go from there? Scientists are beginning to monitor the extent of pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) in the aquatic environment and their consequences. What they're finding is that, through leaching from septic tanks and escaping intact through sewage treatment processes, some of these substances are ending up back in the drinking water.
Germany has been at the forefront of PPCP monitoring. Studies conducted there during the past 10 years confirmed the presence of PPCPs in treated and untreated sewage effluent, surface water, groundwater, and drinking water. Most commonly found were anti-inflammatory and pain-killing drugs, cholesterol-lowering drugs, anticonvulsants, and sex hormones from oral contraceptives. Samples from 40 German rivers and streams turned up residues of 31 different PPCPs, according to a report presented at the March 2000 American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco, California, by Thomas Ternes, a chemist at the Institute for Water Research and Water Technology in Wiesbaden.
Researchers worldwide have discovered more than 60 different PPCPs in water sources, according to Christian Daughton, chief of the Environmental Chemistry Branch of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Environmental Sciences Division in Las Vegas, Nevada. In addition to the drugs noted above, the list includes antineoplastics, beta-blockers, bronchodilators, lipid regulators, hypnotics, antibiotics, antiseptics, X-ray contrast agents, sunscreen agents, caffeine, and fragrances such as synthetic musks. Most PPCPs are detected at concentrations ranging from parts per trillion to parts per billion, and originate in treated and untreated sewage, says Daughton, who coauthored an article on PPCPs in the December 1999 issue of EHP Supplements.
North American researchers are just beginning to look at the issue of PPCPs. Studies presented at the June 2000 Emerging Issues Conference sponsored by the National Ground Water Association, held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, indicate that the problem exists here, too. For example, environmental scientist Chris Metcalfe of Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, detected the drugs aspirin, ibuprofen, indomethacin, bezafibrate (a cholesterol regulator), and carbamazepine (an anticonvulsant) in 10 pre- and post-treatment samples from sewage treatment plants in eastern Canada. The sewage treatment process in place removed some drugs that were easily biodegradable or more amenable to removal by activated charcoal, degradative microbes, or sand filtration, but others were resistant to degradation.
Metcalfe is just beginning to analyze the effects of cholesterol-lowering drugs, estrogens, and anticonvulsants on fish in the Great Lakes. All three drug types can potentially interfere with normal reproduction and development in fish living downstream from sewage treatment plants. His laboratory studies show that estrogen compounds at parts-per-trillion exposures feminize male fish and disrupt the development of the circulatory system, eyes, and bladder. He says it's too soon to know whether PPCPs adversely affect wild fish populations.
In one of the first studies in the United States to report the occurrence of drugs in drinking water, environmental engineer Glen Boyd had his students at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, sample water from the Mississippi River, a local lake, and city tap water. Their preliminary experiment targeted the pain reliever naproxen, the sex hormone estrone, and clofibric acid, a major bioactive metabolite from certain anticholesterol drugs. All three were detected at varying concentrations in most of the samples. "The big unknown," says Boyd, "[is whether PPCPs] present a health concern now or in the future." He notes that, although the number of peer-reviewed papers on the topic is limited, government agencies concerned with water quality in the United States and professional organizations serving the water and wastewater communities are beginning to acknowledge PPCPs as an emerging environmental issue.

Gender Reversal Chinook Salmon Changing Sex, Perhaps Due to Stress The Associated PressL E W I S T O N, Idaho, Dec. 15 — Researchers from the University of Idaho and Washington State University have uncovered a troubling case of sex reversal in several fall chinook salmon from the Hanford Reach of the Columbia River.

Genetic samples taken from the 1999 return of wild chinook there show 80 percent of the females tested began life as males. The discovery may help researchers determine at least one of reasons wild salmon populations have suffered dramatic declines in the Northwest. Ironically, the fall chinook run in the Hanford Reach is one of the strongest in the Columbia River Basin. The Hanford Reach is a stretch of natural flow of the Columbia River along the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Hormones and Water TemperatureThe study, led by University of Idaho zoology professor James J. Nagler, was published in today’s issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, a journal of the National Institute Environmental Health Sciences. Nagler and his partner, Gary Thorgaard, director of Washington State University’s Biological Sciences Department, have ruled out radiation as a cause for the gender reversal. According to Nagler and a University of Idaho news release, tests conducted on Hanford Reach fall chinook showed most of the females tested had genetic markers found only in males. “There is a potential at least for this to have significant effects on the population,” Nagler said. “If this is occurring every year, it’s going to reduce the number of females.” Could Reduce FemalesBut Nagler stressed that the finding could be an isolated event and never happen again. He plans to continue testing the salmon there and elsewhere to determine if the phenomenon is widespread or isolated. Scientists have been able to induce gender changes in developing fish eggs for more than 30 years. Experiments in Thorgaard’s laboratory have induced sex changes in trout embryos by exposing them to hormones and a study in Canada showed fluctuating water temperatures can alter the sex of developing sockeye salmon. Although it has never been known to happen in nature, Nagler said water temperature fluctuations caused by hydroelectric dams could be responsible for the gender-reversed females he observed in the Hanford Reach. Altered females, which begin life as males, carry both an X and Y chromosome that normally signifies a male. But the fish possess all the physical characteristics of females and are able to produce eggs and spawn. Nagler said about one half of the eggs that these altered females produce carry a Y chromosome. Those that are fertilized with sperm also carrying a Y chromosome will produce a so-called super male. If super males carrying two Y chromosomes survive and return to spawn in 2003, their sperm would all have Y chromosomes and all of their offspring would be male. If that happens, generation after generation, it could lead to a shortage of females and cause a plunge in the population. The researchers also tested chinook from the Priest Rapids Fish Hatchery and from Dworshak National Fish Hatchery at Ahsahka and found no evidence of gender-reversed females. Nagler said the next step is to monitor the Hanford Reach chinook and determine if the phenomenon is recurring.

CONTAMINATION of water by the contraceptive pill is changing the sex of male fish and may be making Englishmen less fertile, new evidence reveals.Fears over the "gender bender" effect of pollution, arose after Environment Agency research showed that half of all the male fish in low-lying English rivers are changing sex as a result of water pollution.The source of contamination is believed to be urine from tens of thousands of women who use the contraceptive pill.The government-funded research showed that an "exquisitely potent" form of the female hormone oestrogen, found in the urine of women taking contraceptive pills, was contaminating English rivers - source of one-third of the country's drinking water.Male fish are developing female characteristics in many of those rivers.Only minute traces of the biochemical result in dramatic biological effects."In some stretches, all the male fish have been feminised," says the report.The Environment Agency's revelations, due to be published later this month, may explain the steep fall in sperm counts among Englishmen in recent decades."Danger to human fertility cannot be ruled out," said opposition Conservative environment spokesman Peter Ainsworth.Professor Charles Tyler of Exeter University, one of the research team's leaders, said the oestrogen was so powerful that even undetectable levels could have an effect."So we cannot be sure that some of these compounds, albeit of very low concentrations, aren't getting into our drinking water," the paper quoted him as saying.The reality could be even worse.Water filtration systems taking drinking water from rivers are excellent for clearing it of bacteria but often cannot remove complex chemical compounds.This makes it more than likely that sex-changing chemicals are making their way into domestic drinking-water supply.

(03/17/2002) Scientists suspect pollution by an "exquisitely potent" synthetic form of estrogen used in birth control pills is responsible for British government findings that half of the male fish in the country's lowland rivers have eggs developing in their testes or other forms of intersex development. Half of all the male fish in Britain's lowland rivers are changing sex as a result of pollution, alarming new official research suggests. The findings raise serious questions as to whether the pollution is getting into drinking water and affecting human fertility. The research - to be published by Britain's Environment Agency - shows that male fish are developing female characteristics in rivers all over the country. In some stretches all the male fish have been feminised.
The research, financed by the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs and the official Natural Environment Research Council, examined roach fish from 10 rivers over the past five years. They found feminised "intersex" males in all of them - the rivers Lea in Hertfordshire (from which London takes much of its drinking water), Blackwater in Essex, Arun in West Sussex, Avon in Bristol, Rea in Shropshire, Wreake in Leicestershire, Nene in the East Midlands, Ouse in North Yorkshire and Aire and Calder in West Yorkshire.
The study found that, on average, just under 50 per cent of the male fish had developed eggs in their testes, and/or female reproductive ducts - a finding they believe is likely to be typical of roach and other species of fish all over the country. In stretches of the Aire and Nene all the male fish were affected in this way, and even in relatively unpolluted waters 7 to 8 per cent were affected.
The fish did not change back after being put into clean water, suggesting that the changes were permanent. About one tenth of the male fish were sterile, and about another quarter had damaged sperm.
(04/16/2002) Study find exposure to commonly used pesticide Atrazine - even at levels 30 times lower than U.S. EPA considers safe in drinking water - causes severe sexual abnormalities, including hermaphroditism, in male frogs. Atrazine, a top selling weed killer in the United States and the world, has been found to dramatically affect the sexual development of male frogs, turning them into hermaphrodites - creatures with both male and female organs - at concentrations 30 times lower than those deemed safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). "I was very much surprised," at the impact of atrazine on developing frogs, said Tyrone B. Hayes of the University of California at Berkeley. "What struck us as unbelievable was that atrazine could cause such dramatic effects at such low levels."
"If you take five grains of salt, divide this weight by five thousand, that is the amount of atrazine that causes these abnormalities," added Hayes." Atrazine is the most commonly used weed killer in North America, he said, and can be found in rainwater, snow runoff and ground water. "There is virtually no atrazine-free environment," Hayes said, who noted that the herbicide has been used for 40 years in over 80 countries.

Effects of Estrogen on People

Problems for People
Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals has "potentially serious consequences" for humans, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Although connections have not yet been clearly drawn between cause and effect, some scientists speculate that recent trends in human health--including early puberty, reduced sperm count, and increased incidence of cancer of the breast, prostate, and testicles--are connected to the endocrine-disrupting molecules each of us encounters in the water we drink, the food we eat, the cosmetics we use, and the plastics that pervade our lives. Environmental endocrine disruptors are also being implicated in neurological and behavioral problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Some of the evidence:
• Children of women who ate rice oil laced with PCBs in 1968 and 1979 had low IQ, delayed development, and activity disorders. Boys had abnormally small penises.
• Researchers found that children of women who ate a lot of Great Lakes fish had an unusually high incidence of behavioral and other nervous system problems.
• A study of men exposed to the pesticide kepone at work showed they had unusually low sperm counts.
• A recent report noted that adults exposed to large quantities of PCBs from Great Lakes fish had more learning and memory troubles than did other adults.

Males

(03/17/2002) Scientists becoming increasingly convinced pollution by hormone-disrupting chemicals is to blame for the dramatic decline in sperm counts in industrialized countries over the last 50 years; decline is continuing at the rate of 2% every year and the average man now has only about 1/3 as much sperm as a hamster. Sperm counts are falling dramatically across Britain and the rest of industrialised world, and scientists are increasingly convinced that pollution by hormone-disrupting chemicals is to blame. Studies around the world have shown that average sperm counts in men have dropped almost 60% over the past 50 years - from about 160 million per millilitre of semen to 66 million.
The Medical Research Council reports that the fertility of Scottish men born since 1970 was 25 percent less than those born in the 1950s, with sperm counts continuing to drop by two percent a year. Other research by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows that, proportionately, a man now produce only about a third as much sperm as a hamster.
Scientists increasingly blame a whole class of hormone-disrupting chemicals. Evidence suggests that they cause cancer and damage the immune system, as well as impairing fertility. And they are ever more ubiquitous.
DDT and other pesticides disrupt hormones, as do PCBs, used in countless products worldwide, from plastics and paint to electrical equipment. Other components of plastics have been found to leach hormone-disrupters including phthalates, which have been found in a wide range of foods including baby milk. Furthermore, research by the British Environment Agency shows that artificial oestrogens, used in contraceptive pills and emitted through sewage works, appear to be changing the sex of half the fish in Britain's lowland rivers.
Scientists and environmentalists fear that the powerful chemicals are getting into drinking water and affecting human fertility. One third of Britain's drinking water comes from rivers; most of it is taken from below sewage works. The Environment Agency denies that there is any danger. Water UK, which represents the water companies, says that no hormone-disrupting chemical has ever been detected in British drinking water, and that fish placed in the water to test it did not become feminised.
But scientists say that the chemicals may not have been detected because there is no routine testing for them in drinking water and because the equipment used in Britain is not sensitive enough. Research at the University of Ulm, in West Germany, using more sophisticated techniques, found small amounts in four out of every 10 samples tested.
Scientists and environmentalists fear that the effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals in people may occur over much longer periods than those used to test the fish. Dr. Susan Jobling of Brunel University, who led the research, says: "Unlike in fish, it is going to take 20 years to see if my children have been affected by developmental exposure to this same cocktail of chemicals."

British men are less fertile than hamsters
Pollution may be to blame for collapse in sperm counts in industrialised world
By Geoffrey Lean and Richard Sadler
17 March 2002
Sperm counts are falling dramatically across Britain and the rest of industrialised world, and scientists are increasingly convinced that pollution is to blame.
Studies around the world have shown that average sperm counts in men have dropped by more than half over the past 50 years – from about 160 million per millilitre of semen to 66 million.
The Medical Research Council reports that the fertility of Scottish men born since 1970 was 25 per cent less than those born in the 1950s, with sperm counts continuing to drop by two per cent a year.
Other research by the US Government's Environmental Protection Agency shows that, proportionately, a man now produce only about a third as much sperm as a hamster.
Scientists increasingly blame a whole class of hormone-disrupting chemicals. Evidence suggests that they cause cancer and damage the immune system, as well as impairing fertility. And they are ever more ubiquitous.
DDT and other pesticides disrupt hormones, as do PCBs, used in countless products worldwide, from plastics and paint to electrical equipment.
Other components of plastics have been found to leach hormone-disrupters including phthalates, which have been found in a wide range of foods including baby milk.
Furthermore, an investigation by the BBC's Countryfile and The Independent on Sunday has revealed research, to be published this month, that shows that artificial oestrogens, used in contraceptive pills and emitted through sewage works, appear to be changing the sex of half the fish in Britain's lowland rivers.
Scientists and environmentalists fear that the powerful chemicals are getting into drinking water and affecting human fertility. One third of Britain's drinking water comes from rivers; most of it is taken from below sewage works.
The Environment Agency denies that there is any danger. Water UK, which represents the water companies, says that no hormone-disrupting chemical has ever been detected in British drinking water, and that fish placed in the water to test it did not become feminised.
But some scientists say that the chemicals may not have been detected, because there is no routine testing for them in drinking water, and because the equipment used in Britain is not sensitive enough.
Research at the University of Ulm, in West Germany, using more sophisticated techniques, found small amounts in four out of every 10 samples tested. And environmentalists fear that effects in people may occur over much longer periods than those used to test the fish.
Dr Susan Jobling of Brunel University, who led the research, says: "Unlike in fish, it is going to take 20 years to see if my children have been affected by developmental exposure to this same cocktail of chemicals."

The male ERKO mice are infertile and upon histological examination they show seminiferous tubular swelling and loss of spermatogenesis. The sperm made in the testes of these animals are non-functional. The testicular LH and FSH receptors are up-regulated, but gonadotropin levels are normal. ERb persists in the ERKO mice, showing that there is no interrelationship between expression of the two ER types.
Seminal vesicle and epididymis weights of the mice are normal, indicating that androgen action is not compromised. The hypothalamic-pituitary level appears to adapt to the lack of estrogen action by maintaining or developing responsiveness to negative feedback effect to DHT, which is not seen in normal male mice. Hence the neuroendocrine regulation of gonadotropin secretion in the ERKO mice is reprogrammed.
As regards sexual behavior, the ERKO mice have normal amount of mountings but lower number of intromissions and ejaculations. The level of aggression of the ERKO males is also suppressed. Moreover, the bone density of the ERKO mice is suppressed.

(01/29/2002) Study finds that men who eat Great Lakes fish contaminated with toxic, hormone-disrupting chemicals such as PCBs father a disproportionately high number of boys. Men who eat fish from the Great Lakes, which are laced with such toxic industrial chemicals as PCBs, conceive a disproportionately high number of sons, according to new research.
The strange effect that PCBs seem to have on sex ratios is poorly understood, but is too significant to pass off as mere coincidence, said Wilfried Karmaus, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan. He suggested the effect might be due to a disruption of hormone levels in the male reproductive system, which has been documented in other, more severe cases of PCB exposure.
Karmaus followed nearly 400 families who regularly ate various fish - walleye, carp, salmon, trout, among others - they caught in Lake Michigan. Of the 208 children born to the men with the highest PCB content in their blood, 57% of them were boys. This figure is statistically far higher than the worldwide average sex ratio in which about 52% of newborns are male.
Strangely, the mother's exposure to PCBs had no significant effect on sex ratios, despite the close physiological contact between mother and fetus. Karmaus said the phenomenon of skewed birth rates is likely mirrored in fishermen on each of the Great Lakes.
"Being a boy is not a disease," said Karmaus, the lead researcher on the report in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, "but we can show that there are some health effects on human reproduction from PCBs."
PCBs are among a number of environmental contaminants that have plagued the Great Lakes for years. They can come from any number of sources, including hydraulic fluids and oils, electrical capacitors and transformers, and as a by-product of paper mills that dot the shoreline.
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were in wide industrial use from the 1930s to the 1970s, figuring as ingredients in paints, caulking and electrical coolants and insulators. Concern about their toxic effects led to a continent-wide ban on importing and producing PCBs in 1977, but the persistent chemicals decompose at such a slow rate that they are still found at dangerous levels in Great Lakes fish.
The Ontario Ministry of the Environment has issued specific warnings about PCBs in fish and their harmful effects on expectant mothers, but their guide to edible sport fish does not mention effects on male reproductive health.
The explanation for the skewed birth rate around Lake Michigan is probably hormonal, Karmaus said, but PCBs may also have some as-yet-unknown toxicological effect on the male fetus, which is known to be more fragile than the female.
(But what physical and mental changes will be found in these boys?)

Females

Increasingly, parents are asking doctors to put the brakes on puberty. That's because girls are developing sexually at younger ages and treatment is available to suppress it.
A landmark study of more than 17,000 girls published three years ago reported that black girls, on average, experience the first signs of puberty between ages 8 and 9. White girls undergo those physical changes by age 10. That's two years earlier for black girls and one year earlier for white girls than previous studies had reported.
For many mothers and fathers, that's far too soon.
"My clinic is full of parents who are worried when they see their little girls are developing breasts or pubic hair," said pediatric endocrinologist Kenneth C. Copeland, M.D., professor of pediatrics at University of Oklahoma Health Science Center.
Early puberty appears to be less common in boys, and when it does occur, it's frequently not diagnosed until it's too late to be treated.
For girls, the physical changes can be both dramatic and traumatic, including mood swings, headaches, development of breasts, and growth of pubic and body hair.
Parents are seeking treatment for their daughters for myriad reasons, including psychosocial ones. Some of them worry that by developing physically too soon, their daughters will have to face teasing from peers and unwanted attention from older males.
Others think "something might be wrong because their daughter is younger than they remember being at that stage of development," said Janice D. Key, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics and director of adolescent medicine at Medical University of South Carolina. "They're concerned that the child is not ready to be a teenager. Parents are saying, 'Slow this down, doc'."
Injections of Lupron, a hormone-suppressing drug originally approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1985 for treatment of prostate cancer, can fend off puberty in children who develop prematurely. The drug, which costs about $6,000 to $10,000 a year, received approval for use in treating precocious puberty in 1993. But medical intervention raises a host of ethical, social and health issues.

Puberty can begin at 8 in girls
Children grow up too fast, many parents say. And preliminary results of a 'Children of the Nineties' study suggest that they may be growing up even faster than we know. The researchers found that one in six girls in Britain are showing signs of puberty as early as age 8.
'I feel that the proportion of young girls who have started early signs of puberty by the age of 8 is important--as this reveals a need for parents and teachers to be aware of the special information that should be available to these children,' study director Professor Jean Golding of the University of Bristol, UK, quoted.
Golding's findings are based on a sample of 630 girls who were born in 1991 and 1992--a small segment of the 14,000 youth involved in the Children of the Nineties study. Also known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, the ongoing research project carried out at Bristol University's Institute of Child Health is 'aimed at identifying those factors in the environment that may or may not interact with the genetic predisposition of a child to influence (his or her) health and development,' Golding explained.
One in six of the 630 girls showed early signs of puberty, in contrast to only 1 in 100 eight-year-old girls a generation ago, according to a BBC report. This may seem to suggest that girls are maturing much faster in recent years but Goldman stresses that this may not be the case.
Also, 1 in 14 eight-year-old boys had pubic hair, in contrast to 1 in 150 boys of the previous generation.
'I think that at the moment, although we assume that this is faster than previously, we don't have clear evidence of this,' she stated. 'If, however, the girls are really maturing faster, there are a number of possible explanations, that all are only suggestions at the moment,' she speculated. 'One is that nourishment is better and that children are putting on more weight which may in its turn encourage the body to assume maturation is taking place.'
According to the BBC, the report is the first study of puberty in Britain since 1969.