Reproduction related hormone levels rapidly increasing in the St. Lawrence River

Posted Sep 18, 2008 by Bart B. Van Bockstaele
Researchers from the Université de Montréal have noticed that the reproductive organs of fish in the St. Lawrence River near Montreal are showing disturbing changes. Oestradiol (an estrogen), both natural and synthetic, is the suspected culprit.
Small fish
Small fish
Bart B. Van Bockstaele
The CBC reports that estrogen levels of up to 90 times the usual levels have been downstream from the island of Montreal. According to Sébastien Sauvé, a professor of environmental chemistry at the Université de Montréal, the levels are about 100 times more than levels known to have significant endocrine-disrupting effects.
Oestradiol (and not estrodiol as written in the CBC article) is a completely natural product. All women release it, especially pregnant ones. It is often called a female hormone, but that is a misnomer, since males have it too. However, synthetic versions have been found as well.
Synthetic versions of oestradiol are use in birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy. Since it has been discovered that hormone replacement therapy or HRT is not a miracle solution and causes its own fair share of problems, the practice has dropped dramatically in Quebec in recent years, however significant quantities still end up in waste-water.
There are however other sources of products with similar effects. Certain plastics contain molecules that are known to have mild oestradiol-like effects. When the plastics break down, these molecules can be released and add to the problem. Other suspected sources are pulp and paper mills.
Scientists from the Quebec National Institute for Science Research, such as Daniel Cyr, a reproductive toxicologist, who are studying a common species of minnow downstream from Montreal discovered that the testes (testicles) of one-third of the males actually contain ovaries during their study of how hormones in the water are affecting fish.
Environmentalists claim that the findings make a potent argument for better testing of drugs and how they affect the environment.
"Pharmaceuticals are present around every big city in the water and that water is being retrieved and given to us as drinking water, so we could be exposing ourselves to very small quantities of a large number of prescription drugs," said Anne Wordsworth, a researcher associated with the Canadian Environmental Law Association.
On the other hand, environmental engineers are hoping that these hormones and man-made pharmaceuticals will be destroyed when Montreal installs its new $200 million ozonization installation at its water treatment plant. It is the first time that this method is applied on such a grand scale.