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Environ Health Perspect. 1995 October; 103(Suppl 7): 173–178.
PMCID: PMC1518861
Research Article

Vitellogenesis as a biomarker for estrogenic contamination of the aquatic environment.


A rapidly increasing number of chemicals, or their degradation products, are being recognized as possessing estrogenic activity, albeit usually weak. We have found that effluent from sewage treatment works contains a chemical, or mixture of chemicals, that induces vitellogenin synthesis in male fish maintained in the effluent, thus indicating that the effluent is estrogenic. The effect was extremely pronounced and occurred at all sewage treatment works tested. The nature of the chemical or chemicals causing the effect is presently not known. However, we have tested a number of chemicals known to be estrogenic to mammals and have shown that they are also estrogenic to fish; that is, no species specificity was apparent. Many of these weakly estrogenic chemicals are known to be present in effluents. Further, a mixture of different estrogenic chemicals was considerably more potent than each of the chemicals when tested individually, suggesting that enhanced effects could occur when fish are exposed simultaneously to various estrogenic chemicals (as is likely to occur in rivers receiving effluent). Subsequent work should determine whether exposure to these chemicals at the concentrations present in the environment leads to any deleterious physiological effects.

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Selected References

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