Fish :: Estrogenic activity documented in fish caught in Pittsburgh’s rivers

A new study from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute’s Center for Environmental Oncology suggests that fish caught in Pittsburgh rivers contain substances that mimic the actions of estrogen, the female hormone.

Since fish are sentinels of the environment, and can concentrate chemicals from their habitat within their bodies, these results suggest that feminizing chemicals may be making their way into the region’s waterways.

The study, abstract number 3458, being presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, April 14-18, at the Los Angeles Convention Center, also demonstrated that the chemicals extracted from the local fish can cause growth of estrogen-sensitive breast cancer cells cultured in the laboratory. Extracts of fish caught in areas heavily polluted by industrial and municipal wastes resulted in the greatest amount of cell growth.

“We decided to look at pisciverous fish, those that eat other fish, for this project because we know that they bioaccumulate contaminants from water and their prey, which may include toxic metals, farm and industrial runoff and wastes from aging municipal sewer systems,” said Conrad D. Volz, Dr.P.H., M.P.H., principal investigator, department of environmental and occupational health, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. “The goals of this project are to use fish as environmental sensors of chemicals in the water and the aquatic food chain, and to determine the origins of these chemical contaminants,” said Dr. Volz. The study examined white bass and channel catfish caught in the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers. These fish are among those commonly caught as a food source by local anglers.

The experiments to determine if estrogenic substances were present in the fish were performed in the laboratory of Patricia K. Eagon, Ph.D., co-principal investigator of the study with the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Dr. Eagon found that extracts from the fish acted like estrogen, a female hormone, by binding to estrogen receptors ? the proteins within cells that render the cells sensitive to estrogen.