Hormone disruptors: male fish as indicators

Posted on September 21, 2011

The release into waterways of chemicals that mimic the effects of hormones is a widespread occurrence that brings potential risks for human and ecosystem health.  Synthetic oestrogen-like compounds are discharged from wastewater treatment systems, farms, and pharmaceutical and plastics factories.  The occurrence in male fish of vitellogenin, an egg yolk precursor protein, is a convenient indicator of the presence of oestrogenic chemicals in streams.   An analysis of data from 43 rivers around the world found that the size of the human population served by a wastewater treatment plant was a significant predictor of the concentration of vitellogenin in the plasma of male fish living downstream.  The relationship was logarithmic, with mean vitellogenin levels rising from around 5 µg/ml for a population of 10,000 to about 200 µg/ml for a population of 1 million.  Vitellogenin concentrations in fish weren’t affected by river discharge, probably because oestrogen-like compounds tend to adsorb onto sediment particles close to water treatment plants, rather than being diluted by river water.

Reference:   Desforges, J-P. W., Peachey, B.D.L., Sanderson, P.M. , White, P.A. & Blais, J.M.  2010.  Plasma vitellogenin in male teleost fish from 43 rivers worldwide is correlated with upstream human population size.  Environmental Pollution 158, 3279-3284.