fish

Synthetic female hormones in sewage are toxic to male fish over generations

By Kristen Keteles

I’m a toxicologist at EPA in Denver, Colorado, and I study how pollutants can affect ecological and human health. I work with a team of scientists from academia (Colorado State University, University of Colorado Denver) and U.S. Geological Society to understand the potential effects of hormones and medications that are discharged into the environment. Did you know a very potent synthetic female hormone used in prescription drugs can be found in water and could be harming fish? We’re finding in our study that it can wipe out fish populations over several generations, and it’s the male fish that are most affected. Some studies have found that male fish below waste water treatment plants, and exposed to female hormones, can lose their masculine characteristics and become indistinguishable from females. Our new study found that a potent form of the female hormone estrogen used in prescription drugs not only causes the males to look female, it also appears to be toxic to male fish and these effects may impact future generations of fish.

Where do these hormones and medications come from? All of us. Humans excrete hormones and medications, which often end up in our rivers and streams from sewage. Disposing of medications by flushing can also contribute to pharmaceuticals in the environment. A growing human population, combined with effects of climate change like decreasing precipitation, has resulted in many streams containing higher concentrations of waste water. In fact, some streams in the west are 90% waste water. Not a nice thought if you like to kayak and fish, like I do. The water IS treated, but many hormones and pharmaceuticals are not completely removed by the waste water treatment plants. So, more people and less water equals more hormones and drugs in the water. My team is trying to determine what this means for fish, and ultimately for people, too. Although, currently, EPA does not have water quality standards for these types of chemicals, our study may help determine if such water quality standards are needed.

We looked at effects of exposure to a synthetic estrogen used in prescription drugs to fathead minnows over multiple generations by conducting experiments, both in the laboratory and in outdoor water tanks that mimic natural conditions.

Chemical exposure to female hormones in prescription drugs was found to increase the chances of death in male fish, but not females. And, fish exposed when they were young, but not as adults, were not able to reproduce later on in life. In addition, fish that weren’t even exposed to the prescription drugs, but were born to parents who were exposed, were less likely to reproduce. It could be that synthetic estrogen in prescription drugs, combined with other natural and synthetic hormones in the water, are reducing male fish fertility and could affect fish populations.

This is why it’s important to do what we can to protect fish breeding habitats in unpolluted areas. What are some things that your community can do to protect fish habitat? Read our information on how to dispose of unused medications to reduce the amount of pharmaceuticals that end up in water.

About the author: Kristen Keteles is a toxicologist in the Support Program of the Office of Ecosystems Protection and Remediation in EPA Region 8 in Denver. She has been with EPA for six years.

Fish A is a normal male fathead minnow. Fish C is a normal female fathead minnow. Fish B is a male that was exposed to female hormones in prescription drugs and looks more like a female than a male.

Fish A is a normal male fathead minnow. Fish C is a normal female fathead minnow. Fish B is a male that was exposed to female hormones in prescription drugs and looks more like a female than a male.

 

EPA Fish Team scientists: Al Garcia, Kristen Keteles, Elaine Lai, and Adrian Krawczeniuk.

EPA Fish Team scientists: Al Garcia, Kristen Keteles, Elaine Lai, and Adrian Krawczeniuk.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Protecting Our Natural Resources – Here and Abroad

OITA PDAA Jane Nishida talks to key local and national stakeholders working to preserve and protect Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay

OITA PDAA Jane Nishida talks to key local and national stakeholders working to preserve and protect Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay

 

By Jane Nishida, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of International and Tribal Affairs

The Chesapeake Bay is one of the nation’s most vital resources, providing important habitat for fish and wildlife, and recreational and tourism opportunities for millions of people each year. While increased tourism and development has supported the area’s economic growth, it has brought with it a suite of environmental challenges, including nutrient pollution, loss of forests and wetlands, and air pollution stemming from increased development in the area. In my previous roles as Secretary of Maryland’s Department of the Environment and Maryland Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, I saw first-hand the impacts of this damage, and worked closely with local residents, stakeholders, elected officials and the federal government to begin on a major restoration and protection effort. Not only can we protect the bay and surrounding wildlife, we can ensure the continued economic benefits of tourism for the future.

Nearly 8,000 miles away from the Chesapeake Bay lies an area with similar opportunities and challenges. Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is known around the world for its striking beauty and diverse ecosystem. However, as with the Chesapeake Bay, concerned citizens and government officials are seeing increased degradation and pollution as more and more people access the Bay for tourism, recreation and shipping development. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Water Justice and the Grand Cal

The Grand Calumet River after restoration work

The Grand Calumet River after restoration work

 

Not far from Chicago’s South Side Altgeld Gardens, where Hazel and Cheryl Johnson helped birth and nurture the critical work of environmental justice, meanders the Grand Calumet River.

The two branches of the Grand Cal come together to flow out through the Indiana Harbor Canal into Lake Michigan. These waterways are home for some of the heaviest industrial legacy pollutants in the country. Neighborhoods that line the river experience some of the toughest blight of any urban area. Some 90 percent of the river’s flow comes from municipal and industrial effluent, cooling and process water, and stormwater overflows.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Eat Fish, but Choose Wisely

By John Martin

When it comes to mercury content, not all fish is the same.

When it comes to mercury content, not all fish are the same.

New Yorkers have access to every food imaginable. From the most exclusive restaurants to the hundreds of food carts scattered throughout the city, there is something here for every palate and every budget.

With this much variety, it’s sometimes easy to forget that some of our favorite foods can contain hidden risks. For instance, although fish can be a source of high-quality protein, omega-3 fatty acids and many vitamins and minerals, some species of fish can also contain harmful elements, like PCBs and mercury.

The EPA recently released the results of the agency’s New York City Commercial Market Seafood Study, which examined mercury concentrations in the most commonly consumed seafood in New York. Although the amount of mercury normally found in fish is not a health concern for most, the risk can be high for those eating certain kinds of fish and for unborn babies and young children. For instance, high levels of mercury can harm a young child’s developing nervous system.

During the study, EPA scientists purchased samples of 33 seafood species from vendors at the Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx, which supplies most of the fresh seafood sold to restaurants and stores in the New York area. After extensive testing of the collected samples, the species found to have the highest mercury concentrations were tuna, swordfish, Spanish mackerel, and mahi-mahi. Shellfish tended to have the lowest overall concentrations.

The entire NYC Commercial Market Seafood Study, including findings on all the fish species EPA tested, can be found here.

Although many people eat high-mercury seafood, the good news is that people are consuming less of it. Another recent EPA study has found that blood mercury levels in women of childbearing age dropped 34 percent from a survey conducted in 1999-2000 to follow-up surveys conducted from 2001 to 2010. Additionally, the percentage of women of childbearing age with blood mercury levels above the EPA’s level of concern decreased 65 percent from the 1999-2000 survey and the follow-up surveys from 2001-2010. A likely reason for these decreases was that women had shifted from eating higher-mercury types of fish to lower-mercury types of fish.

The lesson here? If you like fish, keep eating fish– just make sure you educate yourself and choose your fish wisely.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Bounty of the Sea

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Phil Colarusso

Thousands of silver fish flashed around my head in every direction. The school of pollock seemed to be everywhere at once and their sheer abundance was disorienting. It’s easy to understand how difficult it must be for a predator to pick out individual fish in this incredible moving mass of life.

I’ve only had the pleasure of being enveloped by large schools of fish a few times in my diving career. Even so, today’s schools are typically small compared to historical accounts of fish abundance. Mariners in the 19th century and earlier reported schools streaming past their boats for hours at a time, so they probably had millions of fish. In 2013, it’s rare to find these massive congregations.

We used to believe the bounty of the seas was endless. We’ve since learned that fish, like other natural resources, are finite. Slow declines in abundance can go undetected by fishermen, scientists and the public. But, if these changes continue over a long time, lower levels of abundance become the new normal state.

Scientists have coined the term “shifting baselines” to describe this phenomenon. Each generation of scientists regards the state of the natural world during their career as the normal state, but in reality, small changes over multiple generations result in dramatic differences. The ocean that I swim in now is a very different place than the ocean of Jacques Cousteau in the 1960s.

The logical question to ask is: “Where did the bounty go?” Unquestionably, a large percentage of it went into fishermen’s nets to feed the world’s growing human population, but that’s not the only thing that’s going on. The oceans are part of a system with a large number of interlocking components involved in an elaborate balancing act. A significant change in one piece inevitably has implications (both positive and negative) for others. For example, in New England, the overfishing of cod resulted in skate and dogfish populations exploding. Simply stopping the fishing of cod may not be sufficient to restore populations to their historic levels: cod fishing ended on the Canadian side of Georges Bank more than a decade ago with little population recovery.

However, while my oceans are different than the oceans of Cousteau, they’re still special places. As I was surrounded by pollock, it was impossible not to be filled with hope.

More information about the work of EPA’s scientific divers.

About the author: Phil Colarusso is a marine biologist in the Coastal and Ocean Protection Section of EPA New England, and is an avid diver. He’s living the dream in Wenham with wife JoAnn, two kids, dog and white picket fence.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Gone Fishin’

By Jeffery Robichaud

My boys have been bugging me to go fishing and I just haven’t gotten around to taking them (gotta get some licenses first).  Also our fishing hole (the creek down the hill) used to have a nice big pool at the bottom of a low water crossing but when they fixed it up for a new trail, the pool disappeared.  Now that they are older they probably wouldn’t be satisfied with the smallish sunfish we used to catch anyway.  Maybe I will take them down to the Missouri River to get a look at some Asian Carp.

With the weather finally warming up you might be taking your kids out for this annual rite of passage.  Each of our four states (Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska) have wonderful programs to encourage and safeguard this fun pastime for the enjoyment of all.

Fish are an important part of a healthy diet, since they are a lean, low-calorie source of protein.  However some caught in lakes and rivers throughout the Midwest (as well as throughout the country) may contain chemicals that could pose health risks if these fish are eaten in large amounts.  EPA maintains a system that provides you information about Fish consumption advisories.

fishtissue

There are also a couple of easy things you can do to ensure fish are safe to eat.  It’s always a good idea to remove the skin, fat, and internal organs before you cook the fish (since this is where contaminants often accumulate).  As added precautions; make sure to remove and throw away the head, guts, kidneys, and the liver; fillet fish and cut away the fat and skin before you cook it; and clean and dress fish as soon as possible.  You can find EPA’s guide about eating the fish you catch here.

In future blog articles we hope to share with you information about Regions 7’s Ambient Fish Tissue (RAFT) Program, one of the longest running in the country.   Until then, Happy Fishing.

Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.  His prize catch was a a 6am catfish as a youngster at a campground in Illinois (unfortunately he woke up everyone in the camp screaming for his father since it bent his pole in half).

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The crumbling coral reef and what you can do to protect it

Photo taken by John D. Ivanko

By: Liam

When I snorkeled around the coral reef of the Florida Keys, it felt as though I was flying because the water was as clear as air. I felt like I was hovering 15 feet above the ground with fish flying beneath me. I was inspired to learn more about the ecosystem and this is what I learned.

Coral reefs are a unique ecosystem like no other. Some of the fish that live there don’t live anywhere else. Coral is a living animal just like us. They spend their lives on the bottom of the sea. They are an important part of the ecosystem since they provide shelter and food to the fish. 

What problems face coral reefs?

One of the big problems that the reef faces is the exotic and invasive species such as the lionfish. The lionfish got to the reef by extraordinary means.   The problem started when the aquarium trade released lionfish into the wild. Although they have been in Florida for decades the only recently came to the Keys. They are now multiplying quickly.  The lionfish is a predator that eats young fish.  Lots of young fish are unable to survive. The lionfish has poisonous spines along its back.  Not even the sharks dare to attack a lionfish.

Another problem is this beautiful reef has become a tourist destination and some careless tourists will harm the reef. If you step on coral, it will die. With thousands of people going on the reefs every year, it really wears down the reef. Just like everywhere else, Florida also has a problem with people throwing trash into the ocean.

How to help protect the reef and what others are doing

• Eat the Right Fish

A local fisherman and owner of Castaways Restaurant, John Mirabella, spearfishes lionfish and serves it at his restaurant. Although you might not be able to fish the lionfish like John does, you can chose to eat fish that is sustainably raised and harvested. My family uses Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app for the iPod.  The app shows you what fish are more common and which ones are being overfished so you can make your choice more responsibly. 

 • Travel Responsibly

Use responsible outfitters to go snorkeling. Some outfitters will gather everybody together and tell him or her all about the reefs and how to be careful with the reef and teach you not to damage it.

 • Collect Garbage

This is a very simple one to do.  It takes just minutes but it can save many marine animals’ lives. My family collects bits of plastic and cans when we were at the beach. It is a simple way to protect the animals of the reef.

If you are inspired by this blog, do something to protect and preserve the reef. I hope that you may be interested to help wash the reefs’ problems away.

Bio:  Liam is eleven years old and loves to tinker with technology, read books and go on adventures with his friends. He enjoys exploring nature, writing about it and, most of all, helping protect it.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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It’s All A Matter Of Taste Or Is It?

I just saw a movie which took me through the first chapters of Julia Child’s life-long venture with French cooking. Having been a French major in college, I must confess, that Julia’s first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, became basic reading just like Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry), which brings me to today’s blog. While Julia Child is to be credited with opening Americans’ eyes to new French culinary techniques, we must note that her advice was ahead of its time. Not only did Ms. Child adapt ingredients to those which would be easily found in the traditional American kitchen and supermarkets, she is also credited with educating chefs-in-training on the importance of using fresh seasonal ingredients whenever possible. In her cookbooks, she even highlights during which months taste is optimum for specific produce. Essentially, in the early sixties, Julia Child was already a locavore way before the term had been coined. I don’t think reducing her carbon footprint was what she had in mind. For her, it was a matter of taste.

That brings me to the other issue I would like to discuss today–eating fresh fish. While eating fish and seafood is an essential part of a healthy diet, whether you’re a famous chef or not, many people argue that fresh fish actually tastes better. Well, freshly caught fish is more difficult to find nowadays. As I was reading several articles on aquaculture, I was surprised to learn that nearly half of all fish eaten today are actually farmed, not caught in the open seas or fresh waters. Back in 1980, the percentage of farmed-raised fish that made it to our tables was only 9 percent! Aquaculturists are even developing techniques so the farmed-raised fish will actually taste “fresh.” Given the growing population, good aquaculture practices are key to ensuring a sustainable supply of fish for human consumption. According to a recent study, there seems to be some hope for fisheries worldwide.

I would like to get input as to your thoughts on the issue. Personally, it all boils down to the taste of food—or does it really? In conclusion, bon appétit! As Julia Child used to say….

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Collaboration is Key to Environmental Monitoring

March 2009 marked a memorable month in the 19 years I have worked for EPA’s Office of Water. That is when Environmental Monitoring and Assessment published two articles about EPA’s National Lake Fish Tissue Study. I had the privilege of managing this study for the 8 years required to complete it.

image of men holding fish This study was a unique achievement. It was the first statistically-based national assessment of freshwater fish contamination to be conducted in the United States. It also included the largest set of chemicals (268) ever studied in fish. Field crews worked 4 years to collect fish samples from 500 lakes selected randomly from a statistically-defined set of about 147,000 lakes in the lower 48 states. Tony Olsen in EPA’s Office of Research and Development designed the study and directed statistical analysis of the concentration data. The design of this study generated results that allowed EPA to estimate the percentage of lakes and reservoirs across the country with fish tissue concentrations of specific chemicals, such as mercury, above levels of concern for human health.

Aside from my intense feeling of pride in providing leadership for this major scientific study, I look back in amazement at the number of people who volunteered years of effort to make this study possible. EPA relied on the participation of scientists from 58 state, tribal, and federal agencies for 5 years to evaluate sampling sites and collect fish samples. Their long-term commitment to maintaining the highest standards of quality while participating in the study produced scientific results that earned the praise of senior EPA managers, industry representatives, and members of academia. I want to extend my heartfelt appreciation to all of the scientists across the country that support EPA. In the end, it was their hard work and dedication that made this study a success.

Leanne Stahl is an environmental scientist in the Standards and Health Protection Division of the Office of Water, where she conducts research on chemical contamination in fish and surface waters.

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Flying Fish

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

About the author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation scientist with EPA who started in 1998. He serves as Chief of the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Branch in Kansas City.

Ever heard of a guy named Lew Zealand? He was the Muppet that threw boomerang fish (I expect a cut of your winnings if you ever go on Jeopardy and this bit of trivia pays off). I thought of Lew because it is field season again and on the Missouri River we have our own airborne fish. They are Asian Carp, a particularly troubling invasive species that have infested waters and pose a potentially devastating effect to the Great Lakes. They were introduced into the catfish aquaculture business in the 1970s but during floods these “prisoners” escaped their ponds into the Mississippi River, and have been on the run ever since. YouTube has a lot of great videos of them in action.

In Region 7 we administer our Regional Ambient Fish Tissue (RAFT) program where samples are analyzed for contaminants such as mercury, pesticides, and PCBs. States use the data to post fish advisories. Our biologists (including Lorenzo pictured here) end up with nets full of carp because they often are the most abundant fish in the Missouri River. If you talk to some of the old timers fishing along the banks they will tell you the odd-looking paddlefish were more abundant in years past. Paddlefish face many challenges from human-induced changes to the river such as dams, loss of habitat due to channel straightening, and illegal harvest of eggs for use as caviar. Now they count flying fish as enemies since the more abundant carp out-compete the paddlefish for food.

Photo of Lorenzo holding large Asian Carp near waterAs comical as the spectacle of jumping fish may be, invasive species are a serious threat. A plant may look pretty and an animal may seem cute, yet they may wreak devastating damage when introduced into a non-native setting. In 1884 a single Australian released twenty-four European rabbits on his property for hunting purposes. Within ten years those 24 had turned into over 2 million, and started the delicate ecology of Australia into a downward spiral causing hundreds of millions of dollars of damage each year and bringing a $30,000 fine for anyone found harboring their own long-eared friend as a pet. For those outdoor enthusiasts among you, consider scanning your State Conservation Department’s website before you head out on vacation this summer. Find out what you can do to make sure you don’t unknowingly take home a hidden hitchhiker.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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