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Study: Microorganisms Could Help Remove Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals From Waterways

A recently released study suggests that currently available wastewater treatment technologies could dramatically reduce the impact of endocrine-disrupting chemicals on the environment.

A recently released study suggests that currently available wastewater treatment technologies could dramatically reduce the impact of endocrine-disrupting chemicals on the environment.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo in Ontario studied the fish population of the nearby Grand River over a ten-year span.

Their analysis, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, found that upgrades to Kitchener, Ontario's wastewater treatment system led to a sharp decline in the number of rainbow darter fish with intersex characteristics.

Researchers said that estrogen in birth control pills and other substances that mimic estrogen can impact fish even at extremely low concentrations.

Kitchener water officials incorporated microorganisms in their treatment system in 2012 in an effort to reduce ammonia, but the organisms also reduced the levels of the natural and synthetic hormones that caused male fish to grow eggs at one of the highest rates in the world.

In one year, the study found that the percentage of affected fish fell from 100 percent in some areas to 29 percent. Within three years, the numbers fell below 10 percent, which matched upstream numbers and reflected "a full recovery" of the fish population.

The research showed that water authorities around the world could remove endocrine-disrupting chemicals without resorting to prohibitively expensive treatment systems.

“Having long-term data of the fish population, before and after the wastewater treatment upgrades, makes this a truly unique study,” said Waterloo biologist Mark Servos. “The changes to Kitchener’s wastewater treatment system have had a much larger positive impact then we had anticipated.”

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