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Environmental Studies

Endocrine Disrupters and the Pill

How EDs Work
Our Stolen Future
Drugs in the Environment
Examples of EDs
Government Testing
The Pill as an ED
History of the Pill
Case Study: Coastal Waters
Case Study: Fish
Case Study: Men in Italy
What you can do!
Further Information

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Case Study: Synthetic Estrogens in Coastal Waters

    Scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Hawaii Institute of Marine biology recently looked into the problem of synthetic estrogens in the water. They found that concentrations of synthetic estrogens were much higher near sewer effluents. Through several laboratory experiments on various marine animals such as sponges, crustaceans, and mollusks, the study showed "a variety of harmful effects attributable to estrogens in varied forms and concentrations under a range of conditions," (Burgess) however, the study noted that "it is not known how steroidal estrogens released into the environment affect growth, development, and reproduction of invertebrates, the foundation of the marine food webs and ecosystems" (Burgess). Think about this in the terms of biomagnification as laid out by Colborn in Our Stolen Future. These animals are the considered "the foundation" of the entire marine ecosystem. If synthetic estrogens are affecting these animals at the bottom of the food chain, it is likely that animals higher on the food chain, such as humans, will be more affected by these estrogens as they are magnified at each level of the food chain.
    The study considered 129 water samples at 20 different coastal sites. Most samples were collected within 100 meters of the shoreline and samples "included both raw and treated sewage" (Burgess). This allowed the scientists to see a range of different affects of synthetic estrogens, including the concentrations depending on site and also the proximity to sewage effluents. They found that estrogen "concentration were highest near sources of sewage. Concentrations in embayed sites that received effluent were 1-2 orders of magnitude higher than in open oceans" (Burgess). The lowest concentrations "were from open ocean samples taken in tropical regions near the Hawaiian Islands, the Marianas Islands, French Polynesia, and the Florida Keys" (Burgess). ThePicture from BBC News researchers also found that effluent is not the only way that estrogens make their way int environments. They found that "estrogens filtered easily through gravel and sand,o aquatic showing less that 20% absorption, which indicates they can leach into marine environments from septic fields and groundwater" (Burgess). These findings show that coastal environments, especially bays are the most vulnerable to excreted estrogens. Marine environments are being impacted by estrogens, the question is how much will they be impacted and in what ways. As marine environments are impacted, humans will ultimately be impacted by the presence of synthetic estrogens in the waters. This study shows that synthetic estrogens are running rampant in areas near sewer effluents. This proves how water is being contaminated by our own medications and shows that we are affecting regions that we do not intend to. While this study does not look at the ramifications for marine wildlife, it does show that endocrine disrupters are showing up, and will most likely begin to impact these habitats shortly.

All information on this page from Carla Burgess' article "Estrogens in Coastal Waters: The Sewage Source" from the April 2003 edition of Environmental Health Perspectives

Last updated:  5/2/2006


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