Emerging Contaminants

emerging contaminants

This issue hit the front page of the Washington Post September 6, 2006 with the announcement that the majority of male bass in the Potomac River were producing eggs, known as intersex fish. Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) broke this story with new research out of their Fish Health Branch at the Leestown Center in West Virginia . State and federal agencies, universities and NGO's have assisted in building a body of evidence that points to a class of compounds called "emerging contaminants" are to blame. Our former Shenandoah Riverkeeper Jeff Kelble and current Shenandoah Riverkeeper Mark Frondorf provide direct assistance to the USGS scientists as they continue their research. In the past, Jeff Kelble provided leadership and expertise on Virginia's Fish Kill Task Force.

These contaminants are loosely defined as man-made chemicals which are designed to mimic hormones, or which accidentally mimic hormones, even in extremely low concentrations, and which confuse animal’s growth and reproductive systems. These chemicals and compounds range from pesticides to herbicides, medicines, metals, and personal care products. Three things trouble us the most about these compounds:

  • They can be more potent in low quantities than high quantities.
  • Our drinking water treatment systems are currently incapable of filtering most of them out of our water source.
  • They are generally not well understood and are definitely not regulated as a rule.

Position: Our position is that contaminants that cause deformities and intersex in animals have no place in our drinking water sources, rivers and environment. Yet there are very few clear targets for advocacy. Clearly, those causing acute impacts need to be regulated. And regulating emerging contaminants will take federal government leadership, which has been, and continues to be, lacking. Even with funding EPA has failed to produce a single standard under which regulate.

Objectives: In the absence of a clear advocacy goal we continue to work with scientists to develop funding for studying these contaminants, participate and support the studies, and look for an NGO role in advancing protections around these compounds.

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