Estrogenic discharges are known or suspected to be present in many United Kingdom estuaries and are also occurring from offshore oil and gas installations. The aim of this study was to establish whether estrogens and their mimics are present in marine waters at concentrations that can produce biological responses in fish and, if so, to discover whether the effects are likely to be harmful to populations and communities through changes in reproductive and other physiological processes. Laboratory studies and extensive field surveys were carried out with the euryhaline flounder (Platichthys flesus), using the amount of yolk protein vitellogenin in the blood of free‐living male fish as an indicator of exposure to estrogens. Exposure to the synthetic estrogen ethynylestradiol for 3 weeks confirmed that the vitellogenin response was made and showed that this species is about one order of magnitude less sensitive than the freshwater species rainbow trout. The fish did not respond to the estrogen mimic nonylphenol at concentrations of 30 μg/L. Wild male flounder were sampled from four contaminated United Kingdom estuaries: the Tyne, Crouch, Thames, and Mersey. Fish from one or more sites in each estuary had significantly elevated concentrations of vitellogenin in their blood when compared to concentrations in fish from the clean control estuary (Alde River). Vitellogenin concentrations in the Tyne and Mersey fish were four and six orders of magnitude greater, respectively, than control concentrations. Elevated vitellogenin concentrations were also seen in some male flounder caught in coastal areas. Approximately 20% of male fish from the Mersey estuary contained oocytes in their testes, but this intersex condition was not seen elsewhere. The implications of these findings for fish populations are discussed.
Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry – Wiley
Published: Aug 1, 1999
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