Ecological Impacts of Industrial Effluent in Surface Waters and Fish
U of MN
Phytoestrogens are plant-based compounds that mimic estrogen and can therefore interfere with normal biological development. Research shows that phytoestrogens are discharged into surface water from wastewater treatment plants and certain industrial facilities. The biological effects of these compounds have not been well-studied, although it is known that they can feminize male fish. In addition, almost nothing is known about their environmental fate. When these compounds enter rivers and streams, it is likely that they will be degraded and may have a lessened impact on biota as a result, but this needs to be confirmed. We plan to determine the persistence of phytoestrogens by studying the reactions that transform these compounds in the environment (reactions with sunlight, naturally-occurring bacteria, and sediment) to predict their fate in natural waters. We will also perform exposure experiments at realistic environmental concentrations to determine the impact of phytoestrogens on fathead minnows, an important component of the Minnesota aquatic food chain. This research will enable us to predict the concentrations of phytoestrogens in natural waters and their expected ecological impact. With this information, efforts can be directed to enhance wastewater treatment only at those industries (or during those seasons) where environmental degradation is not adequate to protect aquatic species. This will facilitate continued industrial development and production in Minnesota in an environmentally sensitive manner.