Sunday, March 16, 2008

Polluting Via Sewage

Karen Kidd [PDF] from the University of New Brunswick has done something terrible -- she has poisoned a lake in North Ontario -- to prove a point. The point being, that what we flush down the toilet, or otherwise allow to pollute our water system, threatens to have a horrible repercussions down the food chain.

Kidd, a ecotoxicologist purposely introduced estrogen into a lake in northern Ontario to test the effects on the lake. What her study revealed, was that while algae, bacteria and invertebrates weren't impacted, fishes were. Fishes with smaller body mass was first impacted, leading to the entire species dying off. The the larger fish -- and even the larger fish -- a combination of declining food source, and estrogen poisoning. Estrogen introduced to the lake caused fishes to mature slower; males to become feminized, to the point where sperm production ceased, and egg production started.

Estrogen is dumped into our sewage system as it is excreted from the human body, but is also introduced via artificial sources. Organic compounds widely used in industry, for everything from plastic and epoxy production, to oral contraceptives, are estrogen receptor agonists -- meaning, they act as estrogen by traversing cell membranes and activating estrogen receptors. Unfortunately, many sewage treatment facilities do not remove these chemicals from the waste water, and as Kidd has demonstrated, this can cause severe damage when it arrives in our waterways.

What does Toronto do before we pump waste water back into our waterways? I contacted the city's waste water treatment department last week, but have gotten no response yet.

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