Eleven suspected endocrine disrupters, which damage living creatures by mimicking natural hormones, were found in varying levels at 122 of 130 sites in an Environment Agency survey, officials said Monday.
In an interim report, its first on the topic, the agency said it detected 11 synthetic chemicals and one natural chemical, estrogen, in the study targeting 22 suspected endocrine disrupters.
Only a handful of sites, including Lake Mashu in Hokkaido, were found not to have any of the 22 substances in detectable amounts. The probe is the agency’s first effort to gauge how widespread these chemicals are in the nation’s water systems and part of a larger survey initiated in May to evaluate the risk to people and animals.
Endocrine disrupters are chemicals that mimic the function of hormones released within the body. They have been demonstrated to impair sexual development and immune functions and cause malignant tumors in animals.
The chemicals most often detected are used in detergents, resins and plastics. Nonylphenol, a chemical found in detergents and polystyrene plastic and shown to inhibit the growth of the testicles of fish in the United States, was found in 99, or 76 percent, of the 130 sites studied. Three similar substances, belonging to the same group of chemicals, alkylphenols, were also detected in the survey.
Detected at 68 percent of the sites was bisphenol A, a chemical used in raw material for resins and shown in the laboratory to cause cancer cell growth. Diethylhexyl phthalate, or DEHP, used to soften plastics and in products such as toys and shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals, was detected at 55 percent of the points checked.
Estrogen, produced in animals and detected at 61 percent of the survey points, is believed to come mainly from human waste, the agency said.
The report and agency officials stressed that this is only the first such study and its detection capacity is limited to hundredths of a microgram per liter. One microgram is a millionth of a gram.
It also notes that though the chemicals targeted are suspected hormone mimics, how they work and at what level they pose a risk remain unclear. Therefore the results and the risks to humans cannot yet be evaluated.
The sites covered in the survey included 100 rivers, 17 sea areas, used groundwater taken from eight agricultural, urban and industrial areas, and five swamp areas. Agency officials said if budget constraints permit, they hope to wrap up the water portion of the study in the current fiscal year.
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