Daily News Archive
October 6, 2006
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,
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.
TAKE ACTION: Write to EPA Administrator Stephen
Johnson, [email protected],
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.