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Fisheries Management & Legislative Report

by Tom Fote

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association April 2008 Newsletter)


Contents:

 

This has been an interesting month for fisheries management. New Jersey was notified that unless we come into compliance on April 1st with the ASMFC management plan for tautog, the fishery will be closed. From what I have been told, NJ plans to get into compliance as quickly as possible. The 2008 Summer Flounder regulations were approved by NJ Marine Fisheries Council for the 18 inch Memorial Day weekend until Labor Day weekend with an 8 fish bag limit. There were also reductions in scup and seabass. It has been a long time since I have actually been able to report a relaxing of regulations. It is a real shame with stocks, some larger than they have been in 25 years, that all we see is reductions. Sometimes I feel that certain groups and the federal government are out to destroy the recreational fishing industry. Maybe that is just my paranoia but events keep reinforcing that view. Thousands of people in the recreational fishing industry are losing jobs and pay checks. In a bad economy we can’t afford these losses. People need to start rethinking how we manage our resources. Remember, the original Magnusson/Stevens Act was passed to insure sustainable commercial and recreational fisheries, not put anyone out of business. But “out of business” is the result due to the interpretation of the law by NMFS.

Update on Summer Flounder Research

Partnership for Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Science Inc. (PFMAFS) lost the services of Dr. Brian Rothschild when he was selected to chair the Scientific and Statistical Committee for the MidAtlantic Council. The MidAtlantic Council made an excellent choice and we expect his service there to help deal with summer flounder and other fisheries stocks. We are still seeking a replacement for PFMAFS. Save Our Summer Flounder Fisheries Foundation hired Dr. Mark Maunder to provide the same services for their organization. SSFFF has assured us that since they are members of PFMAFS, Dr. Maunder will work with PFMAFS and help fill the gap left by the departure of Dr. Rothschild.

The next meeting of the Benchmark Stock Assessment Working Group will be in April and we will receive an update from Bruce Freeman.

 

Pots Off the Reefs Legislation

As you read in the President’s column, the Pots Off The Reefs Bill was moved from the Senate Environmental Committee and we are hoping for a speedy vote by the entire Senate. After the Senate hearing, JCAA and RFA was sent a letter by Garden State Seafood asking for a compromise. Reef Rescue, the coalition group for legislation, held a meeting on Monday, March 10th and, after lengthy discussion, there is no viable compromise to the existing legislation. We had many meetings with the commercial fishermen during the last few years and recognize this is an issue on which we will not agree. This is an issue similar to removing the Menhaden boats from state waters. The Menhaden boats are now working in federal waters and the spatial conflicts have been removed. The Pots off the Reefs bill is really another spatial conflict. The pots are not conducive to allowing recreational fishing to occur in the same space. The reefs were created for recreational use with recreational money. The approved reef plan for New Jersey calls for recreational use of these reefs. The Senate needs to abide by the plan and the federal law and move the pots, both recreational and commercial, off the reefs. There are miles and miles of ocean where those pots can be placed.

 

Hooked on Fishing Not on Drugs Bills

This legislation also moved through the Senate Environmental Committee at the same meeting. Unlike Pots off Reefs, this legislation now moved to the Senate Appropriations Committee. I have spoken with Chairwoman Barbara Buono and the ranking Republican, Senator Leonard Lance, and have asked for a speedy hearing on this legislation. With the appropriations process for the new budget, I am not sure when the bill will be posted. This bill does not require new money but uses existing money that is not being spent in another way. We also need for the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee to hear this bill before it moves to their Appropriations Committee. There is plenty of information about this bill in the last three newspapers archived on our webpage. If you have any questions, please email me at tfote@jcaa.org.

 

Drugs Down the Drain

On Monday, March 10th, the AP published an investigative report on the drugs we find in our drinking water. The article is included below. The timing couldn’t have been better since JCAA and I have been pushing for legislative hearings at the both the state and federal level on this issue. We are working with our legislators to introduce legislation to deal with expired drugs. Senator Lautenberg’s Office is scheduling hearings on this issue soon and the Congressional Fisheries Subcommittee is also scheduling hearings in either May or June. It has taken many years to create this problem and there is no quick fix. But the sooner we get started, the sooner we will develop a plan to deal with this problem.

I am constantly surprised with how little people actually know about this issue despite the growing number of articles and studies on this issue. I am creating a library of studies and papers and will soon have the information available on our webpage. If you find any studies or articles that are relevant, please send them to me at tfote@jcaa.org.

On April 5th, I will be moderating a panel discussion on this topic for the NJ Environmental Federation Annual Conference. See the information below. I will be joined by Dr. Anne McElroy who is conducting the winter flounder in Jamaica Bay study. She found 9:1, 10:1, and 11:1 female to male relationships with the one male having female genes. We will also have someone from DEP discussing the drinking water quality issue. The focus of the conference is global warming and there will be many other workshops. Registration information is included below.

 

 

NJ Environmental Federation Conference

New Jersey Environmental Federation’s 22nd Annual Conference will be held on Saturday April 5, 2008. There will be many workshops focusing on global warming. I will be moderating a panel discussion on the impact of drugs and other endocrine disruptors that are increasingly in our environment and causing multiple problems. The information about the conference is below. Hope to see you there.

The Heat is On!
Register for NJEF's 22nd Annual Conference!
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 8am - 5pm
Rutgers University School of Law, Newark, NJ

  1. Governor Corzine invited keynote speaker.
  2. Mayor's Plenary on Public Health, Global Warming, and Environmental Justice
  3. Workshops will feature Children's Health, Clean Water, Global Warming, Healthy Towns & Schools, Environmental Justice, Green Jobs/Green Economy, Keeping Drugs out of Drinking Water
  4. Breakfast, lunch, and reception with key political leaders provided

Cost: $30 per person, $25 for registering before March 15, $25 for groups of 5 or more (per person), $15 for students

Register By Phone: Call Jenny Vickers at 732-280-8988
By Mail: Print out our Registration Form and mail in to address listed on form.
Online:
http://cleanwateraction.org/njef/conference08.html

 

 

AP Probe Finds Drugs in Drinking Water

By Jeff Donn, Martha Mendoza and Justin Pritchard, Associated Press 3/9/08


A vast array of pharmaceuticals - including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones - have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows.

To be sure, the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose. Also, utilities insist their water is safe.

But the presence of so many prescription drugs - and over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen - in so much of our drinking water is heightening worries among scientists of long-term consequences to human health.

In the course of a five-month inquiry, the AP discovered that drugs have been detected in the drinking water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas - from Southern California to Northern New Jersey, from Detroit to Louisville, Ky.

Water providers rarely disclose results of pharmaceutical screenings, unless pressed, the AP found. For example, the head of a group representing major California suppliers said the public "doesn't know how to interpret the information" and might be unduly alarmed.

How do the drugs get into the water?

People take pills. Their bodies absorb some of the medication, but the rest of it passes through and is flushed down the toilet. The wastewater is treated before it is discharged into reservoirs, rivers or lakes. Then, some of the water is cleansed again at drinking water treatment plants and piped to consumers. But most treatments do not remove all drug residue.

And while researchers do not yet understand the exact risks from decades of persistent exposure to random combinations of low levels of pharmaceuticals, recent studies - which have gone virtually unnoticed by the general public - have found alarming effects on human cells and wildlife.

We recognize it is a growing concern and we're taking it very seriously, said Benjamin H. Grumbles, assistant administrator for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Members of the AP National Investigative Team reviewed hundreds of scientific reports, analyzed federal drinking water databases, visited environmental study sites and treatment plants and interviewed more than 230 officials, academics and scientists. They also surveyed the nation's 50 largest cities and a dozen other major water providers, as well as smaller community water providers in all 50 states.

Here are some of the key test results obtained by the AP:

Officials in Philadelphia said testing there discovered 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts in treated drinking water, including medicines for pain, infection, high cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness and heart problems. Sixty-three pharmaceuticals or byproducts were found in the city's watersheds.

Anti-epileptic and anti-anxiety medications were detected in a portion of the treated drinking water for 18.5 million people in Southern California.

Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey analyzed a Passaic Valley Water Commission drinking water treatment plant, which serves 850,000 people in Northern New Jersey, and found a metabolized angina medicine and the mood-stabilizing carbamazepine in drinking water.

A sex hormone was detected in San Francisco's drinking water.

The drinking water for Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas tested positive for six pharmaceuticals.

Three medications, including an antibiotic, were found in drinking water supplied to Tucson, Ariz.

The situation is undoubtedly worse than suggested by the positive test results in the major population centers documented by the AP.

The federal government doesn't require any testing and hasn't set safety limits for drugs in water. Of the 62 major water providers contacted, the drinking water for only 28 was tested. Among the 34 that haven't: Houston, Chicago, Miami, Baltimore, Phoenix, Boston and New York City's Department of Environmental Protection, which delivers water to 9 million people.

Some providers screen only for one or two pharmaceuticals, leaving open the possibility that others are present.

The AP's investigation also indicates that watersheds, the natural sources of most of the nation's water supply, also are contaminated. Tests were conducted in the watersheds of 35 of the 62 major providers surveyed by the AP, and pharmaceuticals were detected in 28.

Yet officials in six of those 28 metropolitan areas said they did not go on to test their drinking water - Fairfax, Va.; Montgomery County in Maryland; Omaha, Neb.; Oklahoma City; Santa Clara, Calif., and New York City.

The New York state health department and the USGS tested the source of the city's water, upstate. They found trace concentrations of heart medicine, infection fighters, estrogen, anti-convulsants, a mood stabilizer and a tranquilizer.

City water officials declined repeated requests for an interview. In a statement, they insisted that "New York City's drinking water continues to meet all federal and state regulations regarding drinking water quality in the watershed and the distribution system" - regulations that do not address trace pharmaceuticals.

In several cases, officials at municipal or regional water providers told the AP that pharmaceuticals had not been detected, but the AP obtained the results of tests conducted by independent researchers that showed otherwise. For example, water department officials in New Orleans said their water had not been tested for pharmaceuticals, but a Tulane University researcher and his students have published a study that found the pain reliever naproxen, the sex hormone estrone and the anti-cholesterol drug byproduct clofibric acid in treated drinking water.

Of the 28 major metropolitan areas where tests were performed on drinking water supplies, only Albuquerque; Austin, Texas; and Virginia Beach, Va.; said tests were negative. The drinking water in Dallas has been tested, but officials are awaiting results. Arlington, Texas, acknowledged that traces of a pharmaceutical were detected in its drinking water but cited post-9/11 security concerns in refusing to identify the drug.

The AP also contacted 52 small water providers - one in each state, and two each in Missouri and Texas - that serve communities with populations around 25,000. All but one said their drinking water had not been screened for pharmaceuticals; officials in Emporia, Kan., refused to answer AP's questions, also citing post-9/11 issues.

Rural consumers who draw water from their own wells aren't in the clear either, experts say.

The Stroud Water Research Center, in Avondale, Pa., has measured water samples from New York City's upstate watershed for caffeine, a common contaminant that scientists often look for as a possible signal for the presence of other pharmaceuticals. Though more caffeine was detected at suburban sites, researcher Anthony Aufdenkampe was struck by the relatively high levels even in less populated areas.

He suspects it escapes from failed septic tanks, maybe with other drugs. "Septic systems are essentially small treatment plants that are essentially unmanaged and therefore tend to fail," Aufdenkampe said.

Even users of bottled water and home filtration systems don't necessarily avoid exposure. Bottlers, some of which simply repackage tap water, do not typically treat or test for pharmaceuticals, according to the industry's main trade group. The same goes for the makers of home filtration systems.

Contamination is not confined to the United States. More than 100 different pharmaceuticals have been detected in lakes, rivers, reservoirs and streams throughout the world. Studies have detected pharmaceuticals in waters throughout Asia, Australia, Canada and Europe - even in Swiss lakes and the North Sea.

For example, in Canada, a study of 20 Ontario drinking water treatment plants by a national research institute found nine different drugs in water samples. Japanese health officials in December called for human health impact studies after detecting prescription drugs in drinking water at seven different sites.

In the United States, the problem isn't confined to surface waters. Pharmaceuticals also permeate aquifers deep underground, source of 40 percent of the nation's water supply. Federal scientists who drew water in 24 states from aquifers near contaminant sources such as landfills and animal feed lots found minuscule levels of hormones, antibiotics and other drugs.

Perhaps it's because Americans have been taking drugs - and flushing them unmetabolized or unused - in growing amounts. Over the past five years, the number of U.S. prescriptions rose 12 percent to a record 3.7 billion, while nonprescription drug purchases held steady around 3.3 billion, according to IMS Health and The Nielsen Co.

People think that if they take a medication, their body absorbs it and it disappears, but of course that's not the case, said EPA scientist Christian Daughton, one of the first to draw attention to the issue of pharmaceuticals in water in the United States.

Some drugs, including widely used cholesterol fighters, tranquilizers and anti-epileptic medications, resist modern drinking water and wastewater treatment processes. Plus, the EPA says there are no sewage treatment systems specifically engineered to remove pharmaceuticals.

One technology, reverse osmosis, removes virtually all pharmaceutical contaminants but is very expensive for large-scale use and leaves several gallons of polluted water for every one that is made drinkable.

Another issue: There's evidence that adding chlorine, a common process in conventional drinking water treatment plants, makes some pharmaceuticals more toxic.

Human waste isn't the only source of contamination. Cattle, for example, are given ear implants that provide a slow release of trenbolone, an anabolic steroid used by some bodybuilders, which causes cattle to bulk up. But not all the trenbolone circulating in a steer is metabolized. A German study showed 10 percent of the steroid passed right through the animals.

Water sampled downstream of a Nebraska feedlot had steroid levels four times as high as the water taken upstream. Male fathead minnows living in that downstream area had low testosterone levels and small heads.

Other veterinary drugs also play a role. Pets are now treated for arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, allergies, dementia, and even obesity - sometimes with the same drugs as humans. The inflation-adjusted value of veterinary drugs rose by 8 percent, to $5.2 billion, over the past five years, according to an analysis of data from the Animal Health Institute.

Ask the pharmaceutical industry whether the contamination of water supplies is a problem, and officials will tell you no. "Based on what we now know, I would say we find there's little or no risk from pharmaceuticals in the environment to human health," said microbiologist Thomas White, a consultant for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

But at a conference last summer, Mary Buzby - director of environmental technology for drug maker Merck & Co. Inc. - said: "There's no doubt about it, pharmaceuticals are being detected in the environment and there is genuine concern that these compounds, in the small concentrations that they're at, could be causing impacts to human health or to aquatic organisms."

Recent laboratory research has found that small amounts of medication have affected human embryonic kidney cells, human blood cells and human breast cancer cells. The cancer cells proliferated too quickly; the kidney cells grew too slowly; and the blood cells showed biological activity associated with inflammation.

Also, pharmaceuticals in waterways are damaging wildlife across the nation and around the globe, research shows. Notably, male fish are being feminized, creating egg yolk proteins, a process usually restricted to females. Pharmaceuticals also are affecting sentinel species at the foundation of the pyramid of life - such as earth worms in the wild and zooplankton in the laboratory, studies show.

Some scientists stress that the research is extremely limited, and there are too many unknowns. They say, though, that the documented health problems in wildlife are disconcerting.

It brings a question to people's minds that if the fish were affected ... might there be a potential problem for humans? EPA research biologist Vickie Wilson told the AP. It could be that the fish are just exquisitely sensitive because of their physiology or something. We haven't gotten far enough along.

With limited research funds, said Shane Snyder, research and development project manager at the Southern Nevada Water Authority, a greater emphasis should be put on studying the effects of drugs in water.

I think it's a shame that so much money is going into monitoring to figure out if these things are out there, and so little is being spent on human health, said Snyder. They need to just accept that these things are everywhere - every chemical and pharmaceutical could be there. It's time for the EPA to step up to the plate and make a statement about the need to study effects, both human and environmental.

To the degree that the EPA is focused on the issue, it appears to be looking at detection. Grumbles acknowledged that just late last year the agency developed three new methods to "detect and quantify pharmaceuticals" in wastewater. "We realize that we have a limited amount of data on the concentrations," he said. "We're going to be able to learn a lot more."

While Grumbles said the EPA had analyzed 287 pharmaceuticals for possible inclusion on a draft list of candidates for regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, he said only one, nitroglycerin, was on the list. Nitroglycerin can be used as a drug for heart problems, but the key reason it's being considered is its widespread use in making explosives.

So much is unknown. Many independent scientists are skeptical that trace concentrations will ultimately prove to be harmful to humans. Confidence about human safety is based largely on studies that poison lab animals with much higher amounts.

There's growing concern in the scientific community, meanwhile, that certain drugs - or combinations of drugs - may harm humans over decades because water, unlike most specific foods, is consumed in sizable amounts every day.

Our bodies may shrug off a relatively big one-time dose, yet suffer from a smaller amount delivered continuously over a half century, perhaps subtly stirring allergies or nerve damage. Pregnant women, the elderly and the very ill might be more sensitive.

Many concerns about chronic low-level exposure focus on certain drug classes: chemotherapy that can act as a powerful poison; hormones that can hamper reproduction or development; medicines for depression and epilepsy that can damage the brain or change behavior; antibiotics that can allow human germs to mutate into more dangerous forms; pain relievers and blood-pressure diuretics.

For several decades, federal environmental officials and nonprofit watchdog environmental groups have focused on regulated contaminants - pesticides, lead, PCBs - which are present in higher concentrations and clearly pose a health risk.

However, some experts say medications may pose a unique danger because, unlike most pollutants, they were crafted to act on the human body.

These are chemicals that are designed to have very specific effects at very low concentrations. That's what pharmaceuticals do. So when they get out to the environment, it should not be a shock to people that they have effects, says zoologist John Sumpter at Brunel University in London, who has studied trace hormones, heart medicine and other drugs.

And while drugs are tested to be safe for humans, the timeframe is usually over a matter of months, not a lifetime. Pharmaceuticals also can produce side effects and interact with other drugs at normal medical doses. That's why - aside from therapeutic doses of fluoride injected into potable water supplies - pharmaceuticals are prescribed to people who need them, not delivered to everyone in their drinking water.

We know we are being exposed to other people's drugs through our drinking water, and that can't be good, says Dr. David Carpenter, who directs the Institute for Health and the Environment of the State University of New York at Albany.

The AP National Investigative Team can be reached at investigate (at) ap.org

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. Active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.

 

 

Fish, Wildlife Affected by Contaminated Water

By Jeff Donn, Martha Mendoza and Justin Pritchard, Associated Press


LAKE MEAD, Nev. — On this brisk, glittering morning, a flat-bottomed boat glides across the massive reservoir that provides Las Vegas its drinking water. An ominous rumble growls beneath the craft as its two long, electrified claws extend into the depths.

Moments later, dozens of stunned fish float to the surface.

Federal scientists scoop them up and transfer them into 50-quart Coleman ice chests for transport to a makeshift lab on the dusty lakeshore. Within the hour, the researchers will club the seven-pound common carps to death, draw their blood, snip out their gonads and pack them in aluminum foil and dry ice.

The specimens will be flown across the country to laboratories where aquatic toxicologists are studying what happens to fish that live in water contaminated with at least 13 different medications — from over-the-counter pain killers to prescription antibiotics and mood stabilizers.

More often than not these days, the laboratory tests bring unwelcome results.

A five-month Associated Press investigation has determined that trace amounts of many of the pharmaceuticals we take to stay healthy are seeping into drinking water supplies, and a growing body of research indicates that this could harm humans.

But people aren't the only ones who consume that water. There is more and more evidence that some animals that live in or drink from streams and lakes are seriously affected.

Pharmaceuticals in the water are being blamed for severe reproductive problems in many types of fish: The endangered razorback sucker and male fathead minnow have been found with lower sperm counts and damaged sperm; some walleyes and male carp have become what are called feminized fish, producing egg yolk proteins typically made only by females.

Meanwhile, female fish have developed male genital organs. Also, there are skewed sex ratios in some aquatic populations, and sexually abnormal bass that produce cells for both sperm and eggs.

There are problems with other wildlife as well: kidney failure in vultures, impaired reproduction in mussels, inhibited growth in algae.

We have no reason to think that this is a unique situation, says Erik Orsak, an environmental contaminants specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pulling off rubber gloves splattered with fish blood at Lake Mead. We find pretty much anywhere we look, these compounds are ubiquitous.

For example:

In a broad study still underway, fish collected in waterways near or in Chicago; West Chester, Pa.; Orlando; Dallas; and Phoenix have tested positive for an array of pharmaceuticals — analgesics, antibiotics, antidepressants, antihistamines, anti-hypertension drugs and anti-seizure medications.

That research follows a 2003 study in northern Texas, where every bluegill, black crappie and channel catfish researchers caught living downstream of a wastewater treatment plant tested positive for the active ingredients in two widely used antidepressants — one of the first times the residues of such drugs were detected in wildlife.

In several recent studies of soil fertilized with livestock manure or with the sludge product from wastewater treatment plants, American scientists found earthworms had accumulated those same compounds, while vegetables — including corn, lettuce and potatoes — had absorbed antibiotics. "These results raise potential human health concerns," wrote researchers.

Blood and liver samples of bull sharks in Florida's Caloosahatchee River, a nursery area for juvenile bullsharks and home to six wastewater treatment plants, are being tested for the presence of an array of medications this winter. Of the first ten sharks sampled, nine tested positive for the active ingredient in an antidepressant.

And in Colorado's Boulder Creek, 50 of the 60 white suckers collected downstream of Boulder's wastewater treatment plant were female, compared to about half of them upstream.

Elsewhere in the world — from the icy streams of England to the wild game reserves of South Africa — snails, fish, even antelope, are showing signs of possible pharmaceutical contamination. For example, fish and prawn in China exposed to treated wastewater had shortened life spans, Pacific oysters off the coast of Singapore had inhibited growth, and in Norway, Atlantic salmon exposed to levels of estrogen similar to those found in the North Sea had severe reproductive problems.

More than 100 different pharmaceuticals have been detected in surface waters throughout the world.

It's inescapable, said Sudeep Chandra, an assistant professor at University of Nevada, Reno who studies inland waters and aquatic life. There's enough global information now to confirm these contaminants are affecting organisms and wildlife.

While some researchers have captured wildlife and tested it for pharmaceuticals, many more have brought wildlife into their laboratories and exposed them to traces of human pharmaceuticals at levels similar to those found in water, aquatic plants and animals.

The results have been troubling.

Freshwater mussels exposed to tiny amounts of an antidepressant's active ingredient released premature larvae, giving the next generation lower odds of survival; in a separate lab study, the antidepressant also stunted reproduction in tiny fresh water mud snails.

When researchers slid hydras — a tiny polyp that under a microscope looks like a slender jellyfish — into water tainted with minute amounts of pharmaceuticals, their mouths, feet and tentacles stopped growing. While the hydras are minuscule, the implications are grave: Chronic exposure to trace levels of commonly found pharmaceuticals can damage a species at the foundation of a food pyramid.

Tiny zooplankton, another sentinel species, died off in the lab when they were exposed to extremely small amounts of a common drug used to treat humans suffering from internal worms and other digesting parasites.

In a landmark, seven-year study published last year, researchers turned an entire pristine Canadian lake into their laboratory, deliberately dripping the active ingredient in birth control pills into the water in amounts similar to those found to have contaminated aquatic life, plants and water in nature.

After just seven weeks, male fathead minnows began producing yolk proteins, their gonads shrank, and their behavior was feminized — they fought less, floating passively. They also stopped reproducing, resulting in "ultimately, a near extinction of this species from the lake," said the scientists.

While the Canadian study was prompted by human intervention, similar die-offs have occurred in the wild.

In Pakistan, the entire population of a common vulture virtually disappeared after the birds began eating carcasses of cows that had been treated with an anti-inflammatory drug. Scientists, in a 2004 study, said they eventually determined that the birds' kidneys were failing.

The death of those vultures — the fact that you could get a complete collapse of a population due to pharmaceuticals in the environment — that was a powerful thing, said Christian Daughton, an EPA researcher in Las Vegas. It was a major ecological catastrophe.

In November, at the annual Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry meeting in Milwaukee, 30 new studies related to pharmaceuticals in the environment were presented — hormones found in the Chicago River; abnormalities in Japanese zebra fish; ibuprofen, gemfibrozil, triclosan and naproxen in the lower Great Lakes.

Many of those studies refer to the heralded research at Lake Mead. There, on a recent morning, Steven Goodbred struggled to hold a large wriggling carp with both hands. On the outside, the carp looked fine, vibrant and strong, but the U.S. Geological Survey scientist assumed the worst.

Typically we see low levels of sex steroids, limited testicular function, low sperm count, that kind of thing, he said slipping the fish into a holding tank and closing the lid. We'll have to wait and see about this fellow.

These carp live, eat, reproduce and die at the mouth of what amounts to a 30-mile-long drainage system that starts within the toilets and sinks of the casinos, hotels and homes of Sin City.

Some 180 million gallons of effluent are discharged into the channel each day from three wastewater treatment plants. The daily sewage discharge is expected to increase to 400 million gallons a day by 2050.

The USGS and U.S Fish and Wildlife Service tracked the channel from its origins, before the inflow from the sewage plants, to where it empties into Las Vegas Bay in the lake. Their findings: The amount of endocrine-disrupting compounds (including hormone treatments and other chemicals affecting reproduction) increased more than 646 times.

Not far from the mouth of the drainage channel — amid the fishing boats and sightseeing tours — water is sucked into a long pipe, destined for a drinking water treatment plant, then Las Vegas — thus beginning the cycle all over again.

Other communities in Nevada, as well as locales in California and Arizona, also draw on Lake Mead.

Lake Mead is a fortuitous worst-case scenario for study, said environmental toxicologist Greg Moller, holding a bottle of Lake Mead water he planned to take back to his lab at the University of Idaho. You've got the wastewater, you've got the documented impact on wildlife, and you have drinking water uptake.

Although more than eight million tourists, including 500,000 anglers, visit the reservoir annually, there are no warnings about the contaminants. No signs. No advisories.

That's not unusual. Scientists have been finding pharmaceuticals in hundreds of other public waterways across the nation and throughout the world — almost always without public fanfare, as documented in the AP investigation.

At the same time, scientists are looking for remedies. In Las Vegas, just off the Strip at the Desert Research Institute, microbial biologist Duane Moser optimistically held a tray of increasingly murky test tubes.

We put a little bit of estrogen in here, and then we added a particular bacteria, and guess what? The bacteria are consuming the estrogen, he said. Someday, perhaps, scientists will be able to use these special bacteria to clean estrogen out of contaminated water.

It's early, but it's promising, he said.

National Writer Martha Mendoza reported from Lake Mead, while writers Jeff Donn, based in Boston, and Justin Pritchard, based in Los Angeles, also contributed

 

 

Synthetic Estrogen Threatens Small Fish

From Water & Wastewater News 2/25/2008


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 Karen Kidd, Ph.D., a 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.

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, Kidd said 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.

Estrogen is part of a broader class of sex-changing chemical compounds known as endocrine disrupting substances. These contaminants, also present in pulp mill effluents, can seriously interfere with normal hormonal processes, notes Kidd.

To better understand the impacts of estrogen on fish, the researchers conducted a seven-year, whole-lake study at the Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario. Over three summers, they added tiny amounts -- low parts per trillion -- of the synthetic estrogen used in birth control pills to the lake to recreate concentrations measured in municipal wastewater.

During that period, they observed that chronic exposure to estrogen led to the near extinction of the lake's fathead minnow population as well significant declines in larger fish, such as pearl dace and lake trout.

Generally, the smaller the fish, the more vulnerable they are to estrogen, remarks Kidd.

Part of the reason, she adds, is that smaller fish have a shorter lifespan and will often die after reproducing only once.

The researchers used synthetic estrogen because it tends to persist longer in the environment than natural estrogens. Yet the problem with estrogen is not its environmental persistence but rather its persistent discharge in municipal wastewater into surface waters.

Kidd says the risk is greatest for aquatic ecosystems downstream from municipalities that either discharge untreated wastewater or maintain only primary treatment facilities. On the flipside, the problem is of less concern near cities that remove a wide range of chemical contaminants, including estrogens, from wastewater using secondary and tertiary treatment processes.

It is now understood, she says, that removing estrogen through wastewater treatment can reverse the adverse impact of this substance/hormone on wild fish. In fact, three years after halting additions of synthetic estrogen to the experimental lake, the researchers discovered that the fathead minnow population was on the rebound.

To me, that's the good news. Once you take the stressor out the system, we now have ample evidence that suggests affected fish populations will recover.

[note: the study can be found at this link: Estrogen Study]



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