When EPA-funded scientists at the University of Colorado studied fish in a pristine mountain stream known as Boulder Creek two years ago, they were shocked. Randomly netting 123 trout and other fish downstream from the city’s sewer plant, they found that 101 were female, 12 were male, and 10 were strange “intersex” fish with male and female features.
It’s “the first thing that I’ve seen as a scientist that really scared me,” said then 59-year-old University of Colorado biologist John Woodling, speaking to the Denver Post in 2005.
They studied the fish and decided the main culprits were estrogens and other steroid hormones from birth control pills and patches, excreted in urine into the city’s sewage system and then into the creek.
Woodling, University of Colorado physiology professor David Norris, and their EPA-study team were among the first scientists in the country to learn that a slurry of hormones, antibiotics, caffeine and steroids is coursing down the nation’s waterways, threatening fish and contaminating drinking water.
Since their findings, stories have been emerging everywhere. Scientists in western Washington found that synthetic estrogen — a common ingredient in oral contraceptives — drastically reduces the fertility of male rainbow trout.
Doug Myers, wetlands and habitat specialist for Washington State’s Puget Sound Action Team, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that in frogs, river otters and fish, scientists are “finding the presence of female hormones making the male species less male.”
This summer, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the American Pharmacists Association will begin a major public awareness campaign regarding contamination that’s resulting from soaps and pharmaceuticals, including birth control.
What the Boulder scientists discovered, however, is that few people care.
Or, if they’re worried, they’re in denial.
“Nobody is getting passionately concerned about it,” Norris said. “It makes no sense to me at all that people aren’t more concerned.”
When the story of his finding hit Denver and Boulder newspapers, Norris anticipated an immediate response from environmentalists, who define the politics of Boulder and are known to picket in the streets demanding ends to questionable farming practices, global warming and pesticide treatments.
To the professor’s surprise, however, the hormone story was mostly ignored.
Two years later, environmental groups have failed to take up the cause of saving Boulder Creek and its fish from hormone pollution.
To avoid genetically modified crops, Ball said, one needed only to buy organic, genetically modified organism-free products at health food stores. Asking residents to stop polluting water with hormones, however, “gets into the bedroom.”
“I’m not going there,” Ball said. “This involves people’s personal lives, child bearing issues, sex lives and personal choices. Maybe people are saying, ‘O my God, what do we do about this?’
“Apathy is the fear of sticking your toe in, for fear it will change your life. Sometimes positive change does require a change in lifestyle.” National Catholic Register (Read it all!)