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Brunel research shows chemical cocktail in water harms fertility

A groundbreaking study from Brunel University has revealed that the combined effects of a cocktail of chemicals are affecting UK waterways to a far greater extent than previously thought. This groundbreaking research unearths evidence that mixtures of chemicals are acting together to affect reproductive processes of fish.

The study investigated the effects of oestrogenic chemicals in fathead minnows, but the combined effects reported in this study are likely to occur in all classes of vertebrate. Carried out by Dr. Jayne Brian and Prof. John Sumpter at Brunel University's Institute for the Environment, the research highlights that a combination of estrogenic chemicals are negatively impacting the fertility, reproduction and gender of aquatic life, and also have the potential to affect reproductive parameters in humans.

Highlighting the shortcomings associated with current pollution risk assessment (which is based on assessment of each single chemical's risk), Prof. Sumpter and Dr Brian are actively questioning the need for a wholesale re-assessment of the current EU regulation on acceptable chemical levels.

Dr Brian explains: “Following our initial study in 2005, we have uncovered clear and unequivocal evidence that combinations of chemicals are a real cause for concern. Our research highlights the risk of population-level effects in the real world, where wildlife may be simultaneously exposed to a number of chemicals.

“Our results are a real cause for concern. The existing EU legislation is based on the regulation of individual chemicals. This is not an accurate representation of real life. In reality, there is a cocktail of chemicals in our fresh water. We need to consider tougher safety margins to fully protect wildlife and humans.“

Oestrogenic chemicals found in sewage, which ends up in surface waters, are the by-product of a large variety of products such as the contraceptive pill, toiletries, household cleaning fluids and fertilizers. Many of these chemicals are very slow to break down, remaining in water for considerable periods of time.