September 18, 2009

Intersex fish found across U.S. – which chemicals to blame?

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The U.S. Geological Survey just completed a nine-year study in streams and rivers across the U.S. looking for intersex fish – males with female characteristics, like production of eggs, according toAlaska Dispatch. Largemouth and smallmouth bass were most affected, with 33 percent and 18 percent being intersex across the country, respectively. The full reportby Christopher Joyce is on NPR’s All Things Considered.

Intersex fish aren’t a new phenomenon, but this the largest study of its kind to be conducted in U.S. waters, according to the article. Scientists blame industrial and pharmaceutical chemicals, as well as personal care products like deodorant, cosmetics and shampoo. Many of these chemicals are “endocrine disruptors” that affect an individual’s delicate hormone system.

We don’t yet know if these chemicals are affecting humans. Many products containing them are not labeledin the United States, according to Samuel S. Epstein in the Huffington Post. It’s difficult to isolate what is affecting other animals, since multiple chemicals could be mixing to form chemical cocktails.

The effects aren’t restricted to fish. A resident in Montana has been tracking mutated jaws and genitals in deer and other animals for more than 13 years. She blames pesticides for the mutations, reports Joan Melcher in a comprehensive article in New West.

As studies and awareness increase, scientists are giving more attention to these “gender bender” chemicals and their implications for wildlife and humans.

– Emily Linroth

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