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Pure Appl. Chem., 2003, Vol. 75, No. 11-12, pp. 2445-2450

Search for the evidence of endocrine disruption in the aquatic environment; Lessons to be learned from joint biological and chemical monitoring in the European project COMPREHEND

R. I. L. Eggen*, B.-E. Bengtsson, C. T. Bowmer, A. A. M. Gerritsen, Michel Gibert, Kjetil Hylland, A. C. Johnson, Pim Leonards, T. Nakari, L. Norrgren, J. P. Sumpter, M. J.-F. Suter, A. Svenson and A. D. Pickering

Swiss Federal Institute for Environmental Science and Technology (EAWAG), Überlandstrasse 133, CH-8600, Dübendorf, Switzerland

Abstract: Between January 1999 and December 2001, the European Community project COMPREHEND was performed. The overall aim of COMPREHEND was to assess endocrine disruption in the aquatic environment in Europe, consequent to effluent discharge, with emphasis on estrogenic activity. COMPREHEND demonstrated the widespread occurrence of estrogenic effluents across Europe and presented evidence of impacts on a range of wild fish species. Using a variety of bioassays in combination with chemical analytical methods, estrogenic steroids of human origin from domestic wastewater effluents were identified as the most pervasive problem, although alkylphenols may be important estrogenic components of some industrial effluents. New tools have been developed for the identification of estrogenic effluents, and recommendations are made for the improvement of existing techniques. We have shown that individual fish within natural populations may be feminized to varying degrees, but it has not been possible to show, using traditional fish population parameters, that the survival of fish populations is threatened. However, laboratory-based fish life-cycle studies demonstrate the sensitivity of fish to estrogen (and androgen) exposure and how this might lead to complex (and potentially damaging) genetic changes at the population level. New approaches to this problem, utilizing recent advances made in the field of molecular and population genetics, are recommended. Finally, a study of estrogenic and androgenic activity of waste waters during the treatment process has shown that some of the existing wastewater treatment technologies have the potential to eliminate or minimize the hormonal activity of the final effluent.