Sex and sewage

September 6, 2012, University of Aberdeen

Environmental endocrine disruptors are man-made chemicals that have been shown to have adverse effects on animal and human health and fertility. Aberdeen scientists told the British Science Festival today their effects on ecosystems and human health could be as significant as climate change.

Research conducted by Professor Paul Fowler, Chair in Translational Medical Sciences, University of Aberdeen, and Dr Stewart Rhind, Research Scientist, James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen, along with other national and international collaborators, have shown an association between exposure to these disruptors and changes in the structure or function of testes, ovaries, parts of the brain, uterus, thyroid and of sheep .  In adult sheep changes have also been seen in , the testes and offspring behaviour.

Endocrine disruptors can be found in electrical equipment and furnishings (), plastic bags and bottles, vehicle exhausts, adhesives, paints, man-made hormones and drugs (including the and drugs to treat cancer and depression), and even "safe" drugs such as aspirin and paracetamol.  While individually these chemicals appear harmless, research suggests that when combined, as in real-life scenarios, they may work together to perturb animals and humans subsequently exposed.

Dr Rhind said: "These chemicals are in our air, soil and water. Some are fat soluble and may accumulate in our bodies while others are water soluble and end up passing through us and being flushed down our toilets, entering our environment where they may affect other animals or enter our food chain re-exposing humans.  Individual exposures differ - city dwellers have a higher exposure to chemicals in traffic fumes while country dwellers are more likely to have exposure to pesticides.

Professor Fowler said: "Many of the changes we see are very subtle and not apparent in the living animal; nevertheless, they may be associated with disruptions of many different physiological systems and increased incidences of diseases and reproductive deficiencies such as those that have been reported in a variety of species, including humans. Embryos, foetuses and young animals appear to be particularly vulnerable.

"It's notable that incidences of breast and testicular cancer and of fertility problems in humans are increasing, while populations of animal groups as diverse as amphibians and honey bees are in decline."

The Aberdeen researchers have reached their conclusions through studies of sheep maintained on pastures that have been treated with sewage sludge - solid waste derived from sewage processing plants - commonly used as fertiliser in the UK and many other countries.

Dr Rhind said: "We are using our sewage sheep studies as a tool to investigate the impact on physiological systems of long-term exposure, to low concentrations of mixtures of chemicals because in the real world that is what happens.

"One solution to the problems that these chemicals pose might be to simply stop using them. However we have to find a balance in order to tackle this problem.  If we were to remove all the things that we now use and which contain endocrine disruptors we would have to give up everything that was plastic. We would have to stop using fossil fuels and give up our cars, trains and planes. Life would be impossible – you would be back to the Stone Age, or before, and that's not going to happen.

"So what we must do is attempt to identify the most critical disruptors and their impacts and we are beginning to do that in Aberdeen with our sewage sludge studies. We believe there should be a gradual reduction in the use of disruptors identified as being particularly problematic.

"We need to keep trying to reduce outputs from factories and from sewage processing; we need to educate people to minimise exposure, particularly the more vulnerable members of society, those yet to be born and those that are still young and developing; others may wish to avoid living in the city or not contribute to the pollutant burden by not flying.

"We can change our behaviour and influence manufacturers, eg when we go to supermarket we can choose personal products that are parabens or phthalate free and avoid drinking from plastic bottles – if everyone modified their purchasing behaviour, manufacturers would rapidly change their products to meet demand.

"If we do nothing, endocrine disruptors may not only impact on but all the ecosystems including those on which we depend – if we compromise soil productivity and sustainability of our agricultural systems or cause imbalance in marine and freshwater ecosystems through damage to populations of top predators, ultimately, we threaten our own survival."

Explore further: Study suggest chemicals in the environment could threaten male fertility

Related Stories

Study suggest chemicals in the environment could threaten male fertility

May 16, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- New research from the University of Glasgow, in collaboration with academics in Edinburgh, Aberdeen (James Hutton Institute and the University of Aberdeen) and INRA (France) has shown that fertility in ...

Fetal exposure to radiation increases risk of testicular cancer

February 13, 2012
Male fetuses of mothers that are exposed to radiation during early pregnancy may have an increased chance of developing testicular cancer, according to a study in mice at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. ...

BPA could affect reproductive capabilities, cause infection of the uterus

March 20, 2012
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) have found evidence that, in addition to affecting the heart, brain and nervous system, bisphenol A (BPA), could affect a mammal's ability to reproduce by altering the structure ...

Recommended for you

Women run faster after taking newly developed supplement, study finds

January 19, 2018
A new study found that women who took a specially prepared blend of minerals and nutrients for a month saw their 3-mile run times drop by almost a minute.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.