Targeting Endocrine Disruptors in Australia's Waterways

By McIntosh, Tuppy | Ecos, April-May 2008 | Go to article overview

Targeting Endocrine Disruptors in Australia's Waterways


McIntosh, Tuppy, Ecos


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Australia has lagged behind Europe and North America in research and policy on endocrine disrupting chemicals in the country's waterways. CSIRO has been working with Land & Water Australia to lay the groundwork for local action.

Rachel Carson's documentation of the devastating effects of pesticides on the natural world in her landmark book Silent Spring (1) in 1962 eventually led to the ban of DDT in the US.

In 2006--coincidentally the centenary of Carson's birth--CSIRO and Land & Water Australia released a groundbreaking report on the impact of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in Australia's waterways. (2)

The report, the first of its kind for the Australasian region, not only lays the foundation for a local research effort, but could well alter future government policy on water management.

Earlier research overseas--mainly carried out by research bodies in Europe and North America--has shown that populations of aquatic wildlife exposed to EDCs exhibit skewed sex ratios, abnormal gonad development and reproductive failure. This is because EDCs mimic, block or disrupt the actions of hormones, and disrupt the normal functioning of the endocrine system.

EDCs are known to cause harm at very low levels of exposure so, with trace levels having been found in common household products such as milk and shampoo and in water catchments from Las Vegas to Japan, these chemicals have emerged in recent years asa contaminant of international concern.

Australian research on the issue has been scarce, despite EDCs being identified in discharges from intensive livestock operations, wastewater treatment plants and paper mills, and in runoff from pesticide- or manure-laden farmlands.

Given Australia's low stream flows and declining freshwater resources due to persistent drought, CSIRO Land and Water together with Land & Water Australia embarked upon a three-year research project in 2004 to better understand the potential risks of EDCs in our waterways and provide for future risk assessment.

The CSIRO team, led by Dr Rai Kookana, set out to assess EDC levels at targeted sites across Australia, determining factors that could influence the rate of EDC degradation, and tailoring a research methodology appropriate for Australian ecosystems. …

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