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Dr. David O. Norris, an integrative physiology professor and director of the Environmental and Comparative Endocrinology Laboratory at CU, is researching fish in the Boulder Creek downstream of the Boulder Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Along with the help of a couple of graduate students and volunteer undergrads, Norris has been collecting, sampling and processing fish from the creek since 2000. Many of Boulder Creek’s fish below the treatment plant have both male and female genitalia.
Campus Press: The effect that the estrogen in the water has on the fish is alarming; are there any expected consequences of the estrogen on humans in Boulder?
Norris: Unless they are drinking water directly from the creek below the plant, the effect that the fish are experiencing in Boulder Creek and in other bodies of water will not impact humans. The estrogen in the water is not what should concern people so much as where the estrogen is coming from.
CP: What different products are causing there to be a more than usual amount of estrogen in the water?
N: We are exposed to estrogens through almost everything we touch. We need to start being concerned about the plastics, detergents, birth control, shampoos, foods, beauty products and certain drugs that are exposing humans to excessive amounts of estrogen.
CP: Why is estrogen found in these products harmful?
N: All sources of estrogen that people are coming in contact with are important. By themselves, they are not important, but they are being compounded and becoming harmful. … We have a lot of information already that estrogen is a problem for adults. High amounts are linked to certain cancers. Also, the fetus is extremely sensitive to these chemicals. Male fetuses will show tendencies in the feminine direction. There is also evidence of a link between estrogen levels and birth defects.
CP: Since Boulder is known for being health conscious and there are a lot of people who only eat organic food and many vegetarians, has that decreased the problem that Boulder would have with amounts of estrogen?
M: No, in fact soy products are a large source for natural fidoestrogens. There have been studies done on fetuses of vegetarian mothers that show more birth defects occur with vegetarian diets. Just because the food is organic and may not have the same estrogens as other foods, organic food does not contain any less estrogen.
CP: As for the fish in Boulder Creek, what are the expected long term effects of the estrogen on them?
N: Reduced reproduction is occurring downstream; in the long run, this is likely to be detrimental.
CP: How long do you plan to keep researching the fish in Boulder Creek?
N: We will probably research it as long as it is a problem, but hopefully the day will come when we don’t have to study it anymore.