Intersex and reproductive impairment of wild fish exposed to multiple municipal wastewater discharges

Gerald R Tetreault, Charles J Bennett, K Shires, B Knight, Mark R Servos, Mark E McMaster
Aquatic Toxicology 2011, 104 (3-4): 278-90
The Grand River watershed in Ontario, Canada, receives and assimilates the outflow of 29 Municipal Wastewater Effluent (MWWE) discharges which is a mixture of domestic and industrial wastes. The purpose of this study was to investigate the cumulative impact of multiple sewage discharges on populations of wild fish. In field studies, responses of fish populations and individual fish responses in terms of growth (condition factor), reproduction (in vitro sex steroid production, gonadosomatic indices, histology [cellular development and intersex]) were assessed upstream and downstream of two municipal discharges. Fish [Greenside Darters Etheostoma blennioides and Rainbow Darters E. caeruleum] collected downstream of two municipal wastewater plants had the potential to have greater growth (longer and heavier) when compared to reference fish collections regardless of sex. Fish were not assimilating additional anthropogenic resources into energy storage (increased condition, liver somatic index). Impacts on ovarian development appeared to be minor with no differences in growth, steroid production or cellular development. Sewage exposed male fish were experiencing impairment in the capacity to produce testosterone and 11-ketotestosterone in vitro, and in cellular development (GSI, intersex). Male darters of both species collected in the upstream agricultural region demonstrated no evidence of intersex whereas our urban reference sites had incidence of intersex of up to 20%. Rates of intersex were elevated downstream of both sewage discharges studied (33% and>60%, respectively). Lower rates of intersex at the intermediate sites, and then increases downstream of second sewage discharge suggests that fish populations have to potential to recover prior to exposure to the second sewage effluent. Pre-spawning darters demonstrated dramatically higher incidence of intersex in the spring at both urban reference sites (33% and 50%, respectively), and increased more so downstream of the near-field and far-field exposure sites (60% and 100%, respectively). These findings suggest that the compounds released in STP effluents have a tendency to act on the male reproductive system. These effects may become more pronounced as projected human population growth will require the aquatic environment to assimilate an increasing amount of sewage waste.

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