New research strengthens the link between water pollution and rising male fertility problems. The study, by Brunel University, the Universities of Exeter and Reading and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, shows for the first time how a group of testosterone-blocking chemicals is finding its way into UK rivers, affecting wildlife and potentially humans. The research was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council and is now published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
The study identified a new group of chemicals that act as ‘anti-androgens’. This means that they inhibit the function of the male hormone, testosterone, reducing male fertility. Some of these are contained in medicines, including cancer treatments, pharmaceutical treatments, and pesticides used in agriculture. The research suggests that when they get into the water system, these chemicals may play a pivotal role in causing feminising effects in male fish.
Earlier research by Brunel University and the University of Exeter has shown how female sex hormones (estrogens), and chemicals that mimic estrogens, are leading to ‘feminisation’ of male fish. Found in some industrial chemicals and the contraceptive pill, they enter rivers via sewage treatment works. This causes reproductive problems by reducing fish breeding capability and in some cases can lead to male fish changing sex.