Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals - Literature

The Trail of Evidence: there is a growing body of scientific evidence of the effects of both emerging contaminants and EDCs since the masculinization of female fish was observed in pulp-mill affected streams in the 1970s. The following are a few of the papers and evidence:

1998 (Reviewed Hotchkiss et al., 2008) EPA was given a mandate under Food Quality Protection and Safe Drinking Water Acts to develop test protocols to screen for EDC effects.

1999-2000 USGS National Reconnaissance Studies survey tested 139 streams nationwide, for 95 compounds (33 of which were known EDCs).

  • 82 compounds detected at least once in 80% of the streams
  • up to 38 compounds were detected in a single sample
  • all 33 known EDCs were detected
  • concentrations rarely exceeded drinking water guidelines, health advisories, or aquatic-life criteria (but many of the compounds have no guidelines)

2002 (Jobling et al., 2002) Jobling reports sewage effluent effects on fish in British rivers downstream of wastewater treatment discharges: induction of vitellogenin in male fish and intersex in wild fish. Vitellogenin is an estrogen-responsive egg yolk protein precursor not normally found in male fish.

No single chemical in sewage effluent has been identified as the culprit, but studies have shown that synthetic and natural estrogens (such as ethinyl estradiol, the main ingredient in contraceptive pills, and 17B-estradiol) are often present in biologically relevant quantities.

2007 (Kidd et al., 2007) Reported the collapse of a fish population after exposure to a synthetic estrogen. The whole-lake study was designed to study the effects of estrogens on the sustainability of wild populations of fish. Synthetic estrogen was added to the test lake in northern Ontario, Canada, at concentrations seen in rivers receiving municipal wastewater (5-6 ppt) for 3 years. Native fathead minnows showed an array of signs of endocrine disruption including feminization, gonadal deformities, intersex tissues, and delayed ovarian development. After 2 years of application, the minnow population in the lake crashed.

2009 (Hinck et al., 2009) USGS studies find widespread occurence of intersex in largemouth and smallmouth bass in rivers throughout the U.S.

2010 (EPA) Some good news: EPA surveyed treatments
EDCs can be removed by wastewater and drinking water treatment; better removal is found with:

  • Increased sludge retention time
  • Reverse osmosis
  • Ozone, chlorine and ultraviolet disinfection
  • Activated charcoal and other adsorpents
  • Septic systems/discharge to groundwater


Baronit, C., et al. 2000. "Monitoring Natural and Synthetic Estrogens at Activated Sludge Sewage Treatment Plants and in a Receiving River Water." Env. Sci. and Technology 34 (24): 5059-5066.

Colborn, T., D. Dumanoski and J.P. Myers. 1997. Our Stolen Future: Are We Threatening Our Fertility, Intelligence, and Survival? A Scientific Detective Story. Penguin, New York. Amazon listing.

Desbrow, C., et al. 1998. "Identification of Estrogenic Chemicals in STW Effluent. 1. Chemical Fractionation and in Vitro Biological Screening." Env. Sci. and Technology 32(11): 1549-1558.

Harries, J.E., et al. 1997. "Estrogenic Activity in Five United Kingdom Rivers Detected by Measurement of Vitellogenesis in Caged Male Trout." Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 16(3): 534-542.

Hinch, J.E., et al. 2009. "Widespread occurrence of intersex in black basses (Micropterus spp.) from U.S. rivers, 1995 - 2004."

Hotchkiss, A.K., et al. 2008 "Fifteen years after 'Wingspread' - Environmental Endocrine Disrupters and Human and Wildlife Health: Where We Are Today and Where We Need to Go." Toxicological Sciences 105(2): 235-259.

Jobling, S., et al. 2002 "Altered sexual maturation and gamete production in wild roach (Rutilus rutilus) living in rivers that receive treated sewage effluents." Biol. Reprod. 66: 272-281.

Kidd, K.A., et al. 2007. "Collapse of a fish population after exposure to a synthetic estrogen." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104 (21): 8897-8901.

Mills, L.J., and C. Chichester. 2005. "Review of evidence: Are endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the aquatic environment impacting fish populations?" Science of the Total Environment: 343: 1-34.

A small selection of web references:

Bibliography of USGS reports on contaminants of emerging concern.

Pharmaceuticals in the environment: Statement of Robert M. Hirsch, USGS, April 15, 2008, before the Committee on Environment and Public Works, Subcommittee on Transportation Safety, Infrastructure Security and Water Quality.

Endocrine disruption found in fish exposed to municipal wastewater effluent.

Kidd, Karen A., et al. 2007. Collapse of a fish population after exposure to a synthetic estrogen. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104 (21): 8897-8901.

EPA's webpage on endocrine disruption research