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Daily News Archive
From October 6, 2006                                                                                                        

EPA Chided Over 'Intersex' Fish Concerns
(Beyond Pesticides, October 6, 2006)
Federal lawmakers Wednesday criticized the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for not moving faster to determine whether "intersex" fish in the Potomac River and its tributaries signal the presence of pollutants that might be harmful to humans.

At a House Government Reform Committee hearing, lawmakers and environmental groups expressed alarm at a survey last year by the US Geological Survey that found an unusually high number of male smallmouth and largemouth bass with female sexual characteristics (See Daily News Story). Intersex fish were first discovered in the Potomac rivershed in 2003, about 200 miles upstream from Washington.

They also worry that the presence of egg-bearing males at locations in Washington, Maryland and Virginia could be a sign that something is dangerously amiss.

"Fish are like canaries in the coal mine," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

It is not clear what is causing the changes, though a combination of chemical pollutants is suspected. Most scientists believe that changes are caused by a combination of endocrine disrupting pollutants and synthetic estrogens, such as pesticides and birth control pills. An endocrine disruptor is defined as a substance that causes an adverse health effect in an organism or its progeny consequent to changes in its endocrine function. Endocrine disruptors may be mistaken for hormones by the body and thus their presence may alter the function of hormones, leading to serious health effects including infertility, malformed sexual organs, and breast and testicular cancer.

There are many commonly used pesticides that are known or suspected endocrine disruptors, including atrazine, 2,4-D, lindane, and the synthetic pyrethroid permethrin. A recent study found that the commonly used lawn pesticide formulation Round-up, with the active ingredient glyphosate, causes damaging endocrine effects in fetuses. EPA does not currently evaluate or consider the endocrine disrupting properties of pesticides during registration or reregistration.

Since 1996, EPA has been trying to develop a screening program to identify endocrine disruptors. But the agency says the science has proven to be complicated and research is still ongoing.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) said that taking 10 years is entirely too long. "It seems (EPA) looks for any excuse it can find to delay the implementation of regulations that could affect the public's health."

Benjamin Grumbles, EPA's assistant administrator for water, said the first tests were expected by the end of next year. He told lawmakers the issue was particularly challenging because of the difficulty of determining how various compounds interact.

In the meantime, lawmakers pressed federal scientists for reassurances that it was safe to drink the Potomac's water and eat its fish. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said he was particularly concerned for pregnant women. "I don't want us looking back 10 years from now saying we didn't move with the appropriate urgency."

Rep. Cummings also pressed federal scientists to rate on a scale of 0 to 10 the seriousness of the issue. Mr. Grumbles replied he would give it an 8.

"Fish are warning signs and we need to take it seriously," Mr. Grumbles said.

The environmental impacts of endocrine- disrupting chemicals has been well-established; pseudo-hermaphrodite polar bears with penis-like stumps, panthers with atrophied testicles, and hermaphroditic deformities in frogs have all been documented as the probable result of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the environment. Many scientists believe that wildlife provides early warnings of effects produced by endocrine disruptors, which may as yet be unobserved in humans.

Source: Washington Post

TAKE ACTION: Write to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, Johnson.Stephen@epa.gov, and let him know how important it is for EPA to act on intersex fish and expedite their endocrine disruptor research. Also, write to your Senators and Members of Congress (http://www.congress.org) and ask them to continue putting pressure on EPA to protect the nation’s health and environment by protecting our waterways from endocrine-disrupting contaminants.