Education Resource

Male Fish + Chemicals = ??

In India, 1,600 people die everyday from water-related disease (Photo by Anna-Katarina Gravgaard).

In India, 1,600 people die everyday from water-related disease (Photo by Anna-Katarina Gravgaard).

This article is from a student at Lehman High School in Bronx, New York. Lehman participated in a series of visits with Pulitzer Center journalists leading up the High School News Literacy Summit at Baruch College in Manhattan.

While many are not aware of the details of modern water pollution, most understand the frightening words: "toxic chemicals". Improper disposal of toxic chemicals is one factor that leads to water pollution. Water pollution has happened all around the world. Though our planet is filled with water, not much of it is drinkable.

Studies show that because of pollutants in the water, including endocrine (a form of hormones) disrupting chemicals, and the residue of pharmaceutical products, male bass in the Potomac River are producing eggs or showing other female traits. In some cases, the sex of the fish changes or became intertwined.

People may say that it is "just fish"—that it is "just water". However, if you look around we depend on water for very many things, consumption, bathing, etc. If chemicals are getting into our water, who knows what might happen to us? According to a Geological Survey in the U.S., "intersex fish were found in a third of all 111 sites tested across the United States, including in major waterways such as the Mississippi River and the Rio Grande."

This chemical downfall occurred in 16 different species, but was most common in male smallmouth and largemouth bass. There were many chemicals that mixed, but researchers were not aware of which specific ones had caused it. "We have not been able to identify one particular chemical or one particular source," stated USGS biologist Vicki Blazer; in an article called "Male fish now exhibiting female traits due to toxic chemicals and pharma runoff" by David Gutierrez. People do not notice the true focus of this phenomenon. It is because of what humans do to the water that problems like this arise. Because the "hormonal systems of all vertebrates" are similar to us humans, anything that has an impact on fish living in water can have an effect on humans that drink it. Biologists try to separate certain chemicals to prevent anything like that from happening to people; but it is proven difficult. One of the bad things about it is that the public is not aware of what is happening to the water. People eat the fish and the body absorbs what the fish have eaten, making it harmful to humans.

Given the fact of the role water plays as a vital human resource, this evidence suggests a rapidly growing concern. What is not clear is how far the effects will reach. More importantly, the last great unknown is what the world will do with the growing knowledge of the threat water impurity poses.