The cocktail of gender-bending chemicals entering rivers and streams is more potent and harmful than anyone realised, it has been revealed.
Scientists have found an entirely new class of chemicals that is changing male fish into females – and which could be contributing to the soaring rate of infertility and defects in men.
They have yet to find the source of the chemicals, known as anti-androgens, but believe they could come from pesticides, industrial pollution or pharmaceutical drugs.
Until now it was assumed that the most serious gender bending man-made chemicals were those that mimicked the female sex hormone oestrogen.
The new pollutants, which were discovered in more than 30 rivers, work by blocking male sex hormones such as testosterone. In animal tests they have shown to cause low sperm counts and genital deformities.
Professor Charles Tyler, of Exeter University who was involved in the study, said the mix of anti-androgens and oestrogen mimicking chemicals was a ‘double whammy’ for wildlife – and possibly humans.
‘There are likely to be many reasons behind the rise in male fertility problems in humans, but these findings could reveal one, previously unknown, factor,’ he said.
‘Anti-androgens can induce a lot of conditions we see in humans, such as low fertility and an increase in genital deformities, very readily.’
People could be exposed to anti-androgens in pesticides on food, through airborne pollution or from drugs. The findings come from a three-year study at Exeter and Brunel Universities.
Scientists looked at samples of water from 30 sites near sewage outlets and at 1,500 fish. Genetically engineered yeast cells can be used in a laboratory to determine levels of anti-androgens. The researchers were astonished at what they found.
Male fish exposed to the highest levels of anti-androgens were most likely to be ‘feminised’ – and have egg cells in their testes.
Dr Susan Jobling of Brunel University, said: ‘We have identified a new group of chemicals, but do not know where they are coming from. A principal aim of our work is now to identify the source of these pollutants and work with regulators and industry to test the effects of a mixture of these chemicals.’
Don’t forget the War on Males. There is more to this. Consider the environmental impact of mercury vapour-lightbulbs being disposed of incorrectly, which WILL happen, although if they break in your house, you and your family will end up breathing most of it in.