|Endocrine disrupters in the aquatic environment: An overview|In: Acta Hydrochimica et Hydrobiologica. Wiley-VCH: Weinheim. ISSN 0323-4320, more
Effluents; Vitellogenins; Marine
Endocrine disruption; Estrogenic Chemical; Intersex
Although a relatively new area of environmental research, the field of endocrine disruption has grown very rapidly, and currently many hundreds, perhaps even a few thousand, papers are published annually on the many different aspects covered by the field. As far as endocrine disruption in wildlife is concerned, most attention has been focused on aquatic organisms, for two reasons. Firstly, the aquatic environment receives most of the pollutants intentionally released into the environment, through effluents from wastewater treatment plants, and secondly because many of the best documented examples of endocrine disruption in wildlife are of partially or completely aquatic species. These two reasons are probably not unconnected, of course. Hence, aquatic organisms can receive continuous exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals throughout their lives, albeit usually to low concentrations of these chemicals. Analysis of effluents has identified many of the endocrine-disrupting chemicals present, and shown that these are both natural and man-made, and vary greatly in potency. Most attention has been directed to identifying the main estrogenic chemicals, because many of the effects reported in wildlife appear to be a consequence of ‘feminization’ of males. However, chemical analysis of effluents has also demonstrated that chemicals with other types of endocrine activity are present, such as androgens, anti-androgens, progestagens, etc. The effects (if any, of course) of such chemicals on aquatic organisms are unknown, and largely uninvestigated, presently. Much of the biological research has centred on the effects of estrogenic chemicals, especially to fish. These effects, such as elevated vitellogenin concentrations and intersexuality, have to date been studied almost exclusively at the level of the individual, and hence whether endocrine-disrupting chemicals cause population-level consequences is largely unknown (the undeniable effects of TBT on molluscs, leading to local extinctions, being the exception). It is my opinion that rather too much of the recent research has not advanced our understanding of endocrine disruption a great deal, and we are probably not much further forward now than we were five years or so ago. It is surely time to tackle some of the outstanding, unresolved issues, such as the impact of endocrine disruption at the population level, and the issue of how organisms respond when exposed to complex mixtures of endocrine active chemicals. Such research will not be easy, and will require multidisciplinary teams, including people with expertise in areas not yet involved in the field of endocrine disruption, such as mathematical modellers. However, until such research is done, it will not be possible to decide how important an issue endocrine disruption is to wildlife, and how that importance compares to the other factors adversely affecting wildlife, such as habitat loss, climate change, and the introduction of exotic species and novel diseases.