Energy. Environment. Economy.

Intersex fish found in three Pa. rivers; DEP sampling waterways

A recent study by the U.S. Geologic Survey found intersex fish in three Pennsylvania river basins, including the Susquehanna.

Scott LaMar/WITF

A recent study by the U.S. Geologic Survey found intersex fish in three Pennsylvania river basins, including the Susquehanna.

The LA Times reports the state Department of Environmental Protection has begun sampling waterways in response to a recent study by the U.S. Geologic Survey which found intersex fish in three Pennsylvania river basins.

Male fish carrying eggs were found in the Delaware, Susquehanna and Ohio River systems.

The USGS said the findings show that exposure to chemicals that disrupt endocrine or hormone systems – such as estrogen – may be more widespread than researchers previously thought.

More from the LA Times: 

Amanda Witman, a DEP spokeswoman, said the agency is testing two tributaries of the Susquehanna River: Juniata River and Swatara Creek.

The USGS research said that two fish species, smallmouth bass and white sucker, were exhibiting intersex characteristics due to exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals — hormones and hormone-mimicking chemicals that caused the male fish to produce eggs.

“The sources of estrogenic chemicals are most likely complex mixtures from both agricultural sources, such as animal wastes, pesticides and herbicides, and human sources from wastewater treatment plant effluent and other sewage discharges,” said Vicki Blazer, a fish biologist and lead author of the USGS study.

Estrogenic chemicals disrupt the endocrine system, which regulates the release of hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. This interferes with the fish’s ability to reproduce.

Some of the compounds and contaminants found were new, and researchers had to develop new laboratory test procedures to measure them, Witman said.

“The results will provide a much better understanding of the kinds, distribution and concentrations of these compounds,” she said.

As StateImpact Pennsylvania has reported, wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove certain compounds such as pharmaceuticals. Researchers say that while these compounds are not entering our drinking water in full or “therapeutic” doses, there is more work to be done on whether they pose long-term risks to humans and aquatic life.


  • William L. Yingling M.D.

    While the fish are important as a recreational and economic
    resource, there is a greater human catastrophe in the making. We wonder why
    childhood and adult cancer rates have skyrocketed. We wonder why the enormous
    rise in Pervasive Developmental Diseases (i.e. Autism) in children. Why do so many couples have reproductive
    problems and why have in vitro forms of fertilization become so necessary? Are
    obesity and diabetes so prevalent because of social and dietary habits or is
    there a chemical environmental cause?

    Millions of Pennsylvania residents drink the water from
    these watersheds. It is the same water that is causing the fish to be sick. Not
    only are the wastewater treatment facilities not removing these chemicals but the water companies that supply water to
    these consumers are not using processes that remove the chemicals from the

    You will be told that levels (or doses) are not high enough
    to cause problems. Nonsense!! No one really knows the effect of long term low
    dose exposure to this myriad of chemicals in humans. No one knows the
    cumulative effect over time or the synergistic effect of many chemicals working
    together in the human body.

    Environmental pollution (and in particular this current form
    of watershed pollution) is one of the biggest non-laboratory experiment on
    humans ever conceived. I believe the conclusions will be devastating providing of course that the truth ever be known.

    William L. Yingling M.D.

    • Roxanne Embick

      I agree! Would like to talk more with you. Would you be willing to share contact information with me? You can find me on facebook.

  • Phillip Moya

    Fracking might be the culprit.

    • Rob E. Son

      I doubt if estrogen is a component of Fracking compounds. More likely it is human & animal waste that needs a more specific treatment prior to its release into the water table.

      • William L. Yingling M.D.

        Estrogenic compounds in the watershed do come from birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy given to humans and from similar hormones given in concentrated animal feeding operations.
        But in the case of chemicals used in agriculture and fracking, if the chemicals look like estrogen, and many of them do; and if they bind to estrogen receptors in the fish, then they will behave just like estrogen and cause feminization of male fish; and that is exactly what happens.
        William L. Yingling M.D.

        • Rob E. Son

          Interesting… Can we assume it is likely to work the same way in mammals?

          • William L. Yingling M.D.

            Absolutely!! That is the concern with bisphenol A and the long list of phthalate chemicals that are used to harden plastics (PVC).
            Undescended testes, hypospadias, diminished anogenital distance and decreased sperm counts have all been associated with these chemicals. (Search the literature at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences on these topics). These chemicals are not hormones (estrogen or progesterone) but they affect hormone sensitive tissues in the human body.
            The primary agricultural herbicide Atrazine (not a hormone) has been shown to cause problems with sexual differentiation in amphibians.
            If you have not read it…read “The Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson and you will see where we are headed.
            William L. Yingling M.D.

          • Jack Wolf

            Here is a link to Dr. Tyrone Hayes’ web page who did studies for the manufacturer, and was persecuted when he attempted to share the results:

    • Phillip Moya

      Not so fast. In 2010, 2011 and 2012 three waste water treatment plants in Pennsylvania dumped bromides (a chemical found in fracking fluids) into the Allegheny river, the drinking water of Pittsburgh. Bromides have been linked to bladder cancer. These plants were not equipped to handle fracking fluids. The EPA finned these plants $85,000 and stopped them from accepting anymore flowback from fracking . They were also required to invest in 30 million dollar upgrades to their facilities. Furthermore Dr Theo Colborn and colleagues have been have been investigating these chemicals used in fracking, at the Endocrine Disruption exchange in Colorado. Researchers at Veterinary Medicine studied 24 cases where cows have died or given birth to stillborn babies, and this was after they had been exposed to fracking chemicals.

  • William L. Yingling M.D.

    It may take generations for the fracking water that is injected (and remains) into the earth to reappear in the watershed. But it will happen.
    But for many years the used fracking water, that which was extracted from the earth, has been dumped directly back into the watershed without removal of the chemicals resulting in acute aggravation of an already existing problem. This was in my opinion, a violation of the true intent of the Clean Water Act. I personally have witnessed this in the area of the Susquehanna River where I fish.
    The overall problem is multifaceted and has existed prior to fracking (i.e. storm water run-off, agriculture, sewage treatment, technology industries and we the people in general are all to blame) but it has been accelerated by frack water disposal methods.
    William L. Yingling M.D.

    • Phillip Moya

      The New York Times did an article this last week entitled “A California Oil Field Yields Another Prized Commodity “. In there It states oil companies in California are producing 760,000 barrels of water to be sold. Scary right under our noses, and nobody says anything. Even the new law concerning fracking is a joke. It gives the property owner 30 day notice they will be fracking. They have that much time to run out and have their well tested. It mentioned an independent study to be done about fracking. Funny its been around for sixty years and now their studying it. Besides how can you study something when you can’t research the chemicals being used. So it’s proprietary our lives are at stake.

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