Minnesota research probes endocrine disruptors

A major Minnesota research project – paid for by the sales tax increase voters approved last year, and conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and St. Cloud State University – is investigating one of the newest, least understood and most troubling types of water pollution: Endocrine disrupting compounds.

The $896,000 project began sampling water  at 22 sewage treatment plants around the state in early September.

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A number of studies have shown the compounds “feminize” male fish. Some scientists suspect they also cause human ills such as decreased sperm counts, increased genital and urinary birth defects in boys and increases in obesity, diabetes and testicular cancer.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency this week issued a report, Statewide Endocrine Disrupting Compound Monitoring Study, 2007 – 2008, that details the results of previous testing for EDCs in the water and sediment of four rivers and 12 lakes. The research found evidence of  EDC contamination in lakes — including two pristine lakes near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Lake Itasca — that had no connection to any wastewater treatment plants.

Until this research, many scientists had concentrated on treatment plants as the major conduit of EDCs to surface waters.

Vitellogenin, a protein associated with egg making that normally is found in measurable quantities only in female fish, was found in male fish caught in several of the lakes, including the two pristine lakes.

Follow these links to read about the study now under way at the 22 treatment plants, to see a summary of other research on EDCs in Minnesota over the last 15 years and to read an interview with a Minnesota Health Department expert on the compounds and human health. Those articles, and others, appear in the September issue of Facets of Freshwater, the Freshwater Society’s quarterly newsletter.

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