About eight years ago, a study of English rivers concluded that one-third of male fish were growing female reproductive tissues and organs as a result of chemical pollution in the water. Similar feminized phenomena were also observed in other wildlife (birds, otters, seals, and frogs.)
Scientists attribute this “endocrine disruption” to a group of chemicals known as endocrine disruptors. They can mimic the female hormone estrogen and can alter the growth of reproductive and other organs in the body.
Such endocrine-disrupting chemicals are found in a wide range of industrial products, such as plastics, detergents, paints, and pesticides, as well as pharmaceutical products, such as steroids and contraceptive pills.
They are often then discharged into rivers through sewage works.
For many years, Dr. John R. Lee (deceased) and others in the United States have been concerned about the rise of estrogen in our environment. The presence of endocrine disruptors is thought by some to be causing a rise in the number of hormone dependent cancers, such as breast cancer, and could even be the cause for the widely reported global drop in sperm count among men.
Whether there are alternatives to endocrine-disrupting chemicals is a matter of ongoing research. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has offices devoted solely to these concerns. Its Chemical Right-to-Know Initiative now offers information on potential health risks to children from more than 100 chemicals found in human tissues and the environment. The EPA also sponsors the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program to study the effects of hormone-altering chemicals in our environment.