Feminized Males in a Lake (or River) Near You

March 27, 2008 at 5:07 pm Leave a comment

“Feminized males” might sound like the teaser for a TV talk show, but the phrase actually refers to male fish that have acquired the ability to produce eggs. How does a male fish acquire this ability? By being exposed to incredibly low levels of synthetic hormones.

Hormones, along with other pharmaceuticals, are increasingly finding their way into rivers and streams, and they arrive there by diverse paths. For example, flushing an unused medicine down the toilet will send this compound to your local wastewater treatment plant, and from there it will get discharged into a local waterway.

Using your medicine, instead of flushing, doesn’t necessarily solve the problem. A substantial portion of the medicine you take gets excreted unchanged. The rest is transformed into various metabolites and excreted. And humans are not the only animals receiving medicine; pets and livestock excrete huge amounts of pharmaceuticals every day.

If you would like to read more about pharmaceuticals in the environment, I recommend “Side Effects” in C&E News (p. 13, Feb 25, 2008). The article summarizes how compounds reach the environment and identifies some particularly thorny problems that scientists have uncovered. A companion article (“Don’t Flush“) tells you how to dispose of your unused pharmaceuticals safely. Note: if you can’t access these articles, ask me to email you a copy.

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Entry filed under: In the News.

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