EDC Studies on the Assabet, Sudbury & Concord Rivers


Studies in the Assabet, Sudbury & Concord Rivers 2009 - 2013:
Starting in 2009 EPA's New England Regional Laboratory and National Exposure Research Laboratory, partnered with U.S. Geological Survey, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study endocrine disrupting compounds.

EPA Assabet River Study: "An Investigation into the Extent and Biological Impacts of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) in a Highly Effluent-Dominated River in New England."

As part of this project, EPA worked to determine if fish are being exposed to EDCs, focusing on the effluent from the 4 major wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) that discharge to the Assabet River. EPA analyzed effluent for 54 pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) and a suite of hormones and steroids, exposed fathead minnows to effluent to look for vitellogenin (Vg) gene expression in liver (shows EDC exposure), and collected indigenous fish from the Assabet to look for Vg in liver and blood plasma. The Assabet River data contributes to EPA's regional study of municipal effluents. (Not yet published.)

USGS analyzed in-stream water chemistry, comparing areas with WWTP discharges, areas influenced by septic systems, and reference sites. (Results yet to be published.)

In 2013, USGS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife published a study of 19 National Wildlife Refuges - including the Great Meadows and Assabet River refuges - examining freshwater bass for symptoms of endocrine disruption. This study looked primarily for signs of endocrine disruption in bass as the presence of intersex in fish testes or ovaries, and measurable vitellogenin in blood plasma. There are two important findings for the Assabet, Sudbury, and Concord Rivers.

  • First, there are intersex male largemouth bass near the refuges in all three rivers. Among the three rivers, the Sudbury River site within the Great Meadows refuge had the highest percentage of intersex males (75%), but with a small sample size (4 fish).
  • Second, the Assabet River water had the highest concentration of estrogens (2.2ppt EEQ) measured in the study with the exception of water samples collected in the discharge zone of a wastewater treatment plant.

(Read OARS' Working Paper about this study.)

UMass study
In 2010 and 2011, OARS collaborated with Dr. Kathleen Arcaro and graduate student, Kasie Auger, University of Massachusetts' College of Natural Resources and Environment, to assess the activity of endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) in the Assabet watershed and raise public awareness of the problem. The UMass Amherst work screened river water and wastewater effluent samples for EDC-induced effects (induction of vitellogenin and induction of cytochrome P-450) in the livers of male Japanese medaka fish and fathead minnows. (This work published as part of Kasie Auger's Masters thesis.)

OARS continues work to encourage proper disposal of pharmaceuticals and raise awareness of the problems of EDCs in the rivers. In 2010, OARS added an age-appropriate curriculum on emerging contaminants to the "Water Testing and Conservation" unit of OARS' Water Wise Workshops. Because these workshops are for children ages 6 -12, we focused on explaining how contaminants can get into the rivers using triclosan (the antibiotic compound in hand soap) as an example.

The Problem with Triclosan in the Environment
Triclosan: What Consumers Should Know. The FDA is currently reviewing the use of triclosan.
EPA's webpage on triclosan
Congressman Ed Markey is working to have triclosan voluntarily removed from household products
FDA reports that triclosan is not more effective than soap and water in household soaps.

OARS collaboration with UMass was made possible by a grant from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust