Jan 21, 2008

Scientists Study Pollutants in Arizona Rivers

Teams from three universities are studying the levels of endocrine disruptors in the state's rivers

Three teams of Arizona scientists are researching the effects of endocrine disruptors in the state’s rivers, according to the Arizona Republic. The chemicals can be potentially harmful by mimicking certain hormones and then interrupting or exaggerating chemical reactions, and could lead to cancer, infertility, birth defects or other health risks, the newspaper reported.

The chemicals are found in many common household products, such as soaps, plastics, fabrics, cosmetics, soft drinks and other industrial products, and can infiltrate the water supply through drains, sewers and agricultural runoff.

One team of scientists recently identified the high concentrations of endocrine disruptors in Arizona rivers and the other two teams are studying their effect on wildlife along the rivers in an attempt to conclude how damaging the disruptors can be to people, the newspaper reported.

"Endocrine disruptors are everywhere," said David Walker, a University of Arizona researcher who studies the effect of the chemicals on native fish. "These are things that have made it easier for us to survive as a species, but at the same time, the long-term effect of being exposed to low doses of these compounds, nobody knows about."

"A lot of groups will say the levels in the environment are too low to have an environmental impact," biologist Catherine Propper of Northern Arizona University said. "Looking at the effect on aquatic vertebrates and mammals as surrogates for humans, we are very concerned. We do know environmental levels to have an impact."

Hundreds of products ranging from baby toys and teething rings have been banned in countries around the world for containing endocrine disruptors. These products are still available in the U.S because of a lack of regulations, the paper reported.

That worries scientists like Propper, who said the data show human health is at risk, even though the risk level has not been quantified.

"It is a very complicated problem, and people need to understand there won't be simple solutions," she said.

People can make an effort to cut down on their use of endocrine disrupting chemicals, however. Propper said she eats more organic food and does not use pesticides, antimicrobial soaps or shampoos containing chemicals called phthalates, the paper reported.