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Environ Health Perspect. 2009 May;117(5):797-802. doi: 10.1289/ehp.0800197. Epub 2009 Jan 7.

Statistical modeling suggests that antiandrogens in effluents from wastewater treatment works contribute to widespread sexual disruption in fish living in English rivers.

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Institute for the Environment, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex, United Kingdom.



The widespread occurrence of feminized male fish downstream of some wastewater treatment works has led to substantial interest from ecologists and public health professionals. This concern stems from the view that the effects observed have a parallel in humans, and that both phenomena are caused by exposure to mixtures of contaminants that interfere with reproductive development. The evidence for a "wildlife-human connection" is, however, weak: Testicular dysgenesis syndrome, seen in human males, is most easily reproduced in rodent models by exposure to mixtures of antiandrogenic chemicals. In contrast, the accepted explanation for feminization of wild male fish is that it results mainly from exposure to steroidal estrogens originating primarily from human excretion.


We sought to further explore the hypothesis that endocrine disruption in fish is multicausal, resulting from exposure to mixtures of chemicals with both estrogenic and antiandrogenic properties.


We used hierarchical generalized linear and generalized additive statistical modeling to explore the associations between modeled concentrations and activities of estrogenic and antiandrogenic chemicals in 30 U.K. rivers and feminized responses seen in wild fish living in these rivers.


In addition to the estrogenic substances, antiandrogenic activity was prevalent in almost all treated sewage effluents tested. Further, the results of the modeling demonstrated that feminizing effects in wild fish could be best modeled as a function of their predicted exposure to both antiandrogens and estrogens or to antiandrogens alone.


The results provide a strong argument for a multicausal etiology of widespread feminization of wild fish in U.K. rivers involving contributions from both steroidal estrogens and xenoestrogens and from other (as yet unknown) contaminants with antiandrogenic properties. These results may add further credence to the hypothesis that endocrine-disrupting effects seen in wild fish and in humans are caused by similar combinations of endocrine-disrupting chemical cocktails.


antiandrogen; endocrine disruption; estrogen; feminization; fish; testicular dysgenesis

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