Wastewater Forum Archive


Meeting 1st November 2001

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The chairman introduced the workshop by referring to the research priorities agreed by members at their meeting in June, 2001. The topic of Endocrine Disrupters had been voted amongst the highest priorities and, with the help of Liz Mc Donnell, three well-informed speakers had been invited to join the meeting and, between them, bring members up-to-date with the current state of research. He stated that the object of the workshop was an update and discussion of current research on endocrine disrupters. He then introduced the three invited speakers;-

Kathleen Cameron, Department of the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA),
Nick Cartwright, Environment Agency (EA),
Mike Waldock, The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS).
In addition Gordon Wheale, UK Water Industry Research (UKWIR), would present details of a new project, to be carried out in collaboration with the EA, contracted to Exeter University.

Kathleen Cameron outlined the following areas:-

Government research programme

The Government is funding a considerable research programme to improve our understanding of the possible effects caused by exposure to endocrine chemicals and what these chemicals might be. This research is coordinated through the Interdepartmental Group on Endocrine Disrupters which is made up of representatives from Government Departments, Agencies and Research Councils and led by DEFRA. This Group has drawn on the expertise in the scientific community to advise on the research necessary. The Group recently published a report of its first three years' activities.

A new research programme on endocrine disruption in invertebrates and top predators is currently being established. Research is also underway looking at whether suspected endocrine disrupting chemicals might be getting into our food or our drinking water. Further details can be obtained from the Food Standards Agency (which includes details of all research and surveillance funded by the Food Standards Agency) and the Drinking Water Inspectorate.

See www.defra.gov.uk/environment/hormone/index.htm#5a for further details.

Action on chemicals.

Where there are strong suspicions about the endocrine disrupting activities of specific chemicals these have already been put forward for a full risk assessment at the European level – this means that where risks are identified, European-wide measures will be taken to control the risks. The UK is leading the risk assessments for two chemicals that have featured prominently in discussions about endocrine disruption; these are nonylphenol and bisphenol A. For nonylphenol, the risk assessment has shown that measures to reduce the risks are necessary, these are currently being finalised. The risk assessment for bisphenol A is in its final stages.

Measures have already been taken on antifouling paints based on tributyl tin compounds that were found to affect the endocrine systems of marine organisms especially molluscs. Use of these paints has been banned for use on small boats in the UK and Europe since 1987 and efforts are now underway to agree a global ban on use of these paints by 2003.

Other chemicals suspected of having endocrine disrupting effects include some of the Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). These are pollutants which remain in the environment for a long time and can be transported a long distance away from their original source. A Protocol of the restriction and elimination of 16 of these POPs transported in air was agreed under the United Nations Economic Committee for Europe in 1997. Negotiations are currently underway within the United Nations Environment Programme to extend this protocol globally and to POPs transported through water and sediments.

In keeping with the precautionary principle, where there are serious concerns about a chemical, the Government will not hesitate to act to reduce risks.


The main group of pesticides that has been associated with endocrine disruption is the organochlorines (OCs). The OCs, methoxychlor, DDT (and its metabolites such as p,p'-DDE) and some of the various isomers of hexachlorocyclohexane (e.g. lindane, also known as gamma-HCH) have been shown to have weak oestrogen-like activity in some test systems.

Also, it has been suggested that there may be a relationship between the incidence of breast cancer in women and the concentration of organochlorines in their body fat. However the evidence is weak and not consistent.

Most organochlorine pesticides, with the exception of lindane were withdrawn from use. Last year, following advice from the expert Advisory Committee on Pesticides (ACP), lindane was banned for use as a seed treatment in the UK and following agreement at European level all other agricultural uses will be banned very shortly. The Pesticides Safety Directorate and the Health and Safety Executive have also recently reviewed the use of lindane in home and garden products and other non-agricultural uses. Ministers are currently considering the advice of the ACP on these reviews.

Some other pesticides have also been identified as potential hormone disrupters. Most of these are being reviewed under European legislation controlling the use of pesticides. Use of the fungicide, vinclozilin, has been considerable restricted in the UK because of its anti-androgenic activity in some mammalian assays.

Chemicals in food

Food is a source of exposure to potential endocrine disrupters both from naturally occurring chemicals in plants (know as phytoestrogens that can mimic human hormones) and environmental chemicals. In general, exposure to phytoestrogens is much greater than to endocrine disrupters from environmental and other sources. Further research is needed to confirm the effects, if any, in man of such chemicals at concentrations found in food and the environment. The Food Standards Agency has a large programme of research and surveillance devoted to chemicals, including endocrine disrupters, in food, which seeks to ensure that consumers are adequately protected. Details can be found on the Agency's website.

Projects funded by the Food Standards Agency focus on exposure from food, test methods and possible effects in man and include surveillance of bisphenol A, dioxins, and other possible endocrine disrupters which might be found in our food.

Limits exist for a number of chemicals believed to have endocrine disrupting potential. These include limits on the content of certain chemicals in materials that may come into contact with food and might migrate into the food. As part of its research programme, the Food Standards Agency is looking specifically at phytoestrogens. These are naturally occurring compounds with weak oestrogen-like activity that are found in some foods such as soya. Some groups believe that eating these foods may be beneficial. Other groups believe they may be harmful. A Working Group of the independent Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment with particular expertise in the clinical and scientific aspects of phytoestrogens, together with consumer representatives are carrying out a comprehensive review which will be published in late 2001.

Test methods and strategies

We need to know whether chemicals suspected of being endocrine disrupters are actually harmful. The Government is also actively pursuing the development of tests that can be applied to chemicals to determine whether or not they are endocrine disrupters. The tests need to be able to distinguish between those chemicals which are simply endocrine active, i.e. cause changes in the endocrine system, and those which are endocrine disruptive, i.e. cause harmful effects. If we cannot do this we might end up labelling common substances such as salt, alcohol and water as endocrine disrupters as our endocrine systems change when we are exposed to these even in moderate quantities. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) coordinates the development of internationally agreed test guidelines which, when performed to agreed standards, are acceptable throughout the world. This process allows resources to be used wisely and reduces the numbers of laboratory animals needed. OECD has established a group specifically to develop the test guidelines necessary to identify endocrine disrupting chemicals. Further details. The UK is actively participating in this work.

The latest estimates are that agreed test methods for human health will be available in 2002 while tests for environmental effects are expected in the timeframe of 2003 to 2005.

International Co-operation

European Union
The European Commission published its Community Strategy for Endocrine Disrupters (COM(1999)706), in December 1999 –. This consisted of a series of short, medium and long term actions to address endocrine disrupters. The first major commitment was to develop a European priority list of endocrine disrupters for further evaluation. Following the adoption of it’s Community Strategy the Council invited the Commission to report regularly on the progress of work, and for the first time in early 2001. See this report.

A key short-term action of the Community Strategy is the establishment of a priority list of substances for further evaluation of their role in endocrine disruption. During 2000, a candidate list of 553 man-made substances and 9 synthetic/natural hormones was identified. The candidate list has been divided into three separate groupings of substances depending on the level of information available, and a priority list of actions has been developed in order to further evaluate the role of these substances in endocrine disruption. Annex 1 of the report presents actions, timeframes and groupings of substances.

Regarding other short-term actions, the Commission held a European workshop on endocrine disrupters, with the sponsorship of the Swedish Ministry for Environment, Swedish National Chemicals Inspectorate (KEMI), OECD, WHO and the European Environment Agency. The workshop took place on 18-20 June 2001 in Sweden and focused on monitoring, research and development, test methods/testing strategy and international cooperation. The Commission has also held meetings with WHO and the US EPA during 2000 with a view to enhancing international cooperation.

The UK is contributing to this process and will continue to cooperate with European partners on addressing endocrine disrupters.

International Programme on Chemical Safety

The International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) is developing an assessment of the state of the science on endocrine disrupters which will be used as the basis for co-ordinating further international cooperation on this issue. Further details.

UK scientists- including Kathleen - are among the international panel of authors drafting the assessment and DEFRA and the Department of Health have contributed to funding the process. The final draft of the assessment for consultation is expected in 2001. It is anticipated that a final draft document will be posted on the web in February/March 2002.

See also http://www.who.int/pcs/emerg_site/edc_descr.html ; http://endocrine.ei.jrc.it/gaed.html ; Attached to these minutes is an extract from the IPCS Newsletter of June 2000. See http://www.who.int/pcs/newsletter/newsletter_main.html for more newsletters

Cooperation with Japan

The UK has recently signed an arrangement with Japan to cooperate on research on endocrine disrupters in the aquatic environment. This will promote international cooperation and allow Japanese and UK scientists to exchange ideas, information, techniques and personnel.

General Chemicals Strategy

Within the UK, the Government led by DEFRA has recently published a Strategy for addressing all chemicals in the environment. This aims to ensure safe and sustainable use of chemicals while maintaining the competitiveness of industry, to phase out chemicals when the risks of environment and health are unacceptable and to make full information on risks from chemicals more widely available. Industry worldwide has agreed to examine the hazards from high production volume chemicals. The UK strategy sets out procedures for assessing the information generated by industry, identifying chemicals that are of particular concern and determining when risks are unacceptable and risk management is necessary. The establishment of a new Stakeholder Forum to advise the Government on assessment and management needs for individual chemicals was also announced in the Strategy. Chemicals of concern with endocrine disrupting properties can be addressed through these procedures.

Box 1.1: Scope of the Chemicals Strategy
The Strategy deals with:
  • risks to the environment and to human health through environmental exposure to commercially available chemicals;
  • the commercial production and use of such chemicals; and
  • measures relating to controls on production and use.
The Strategy does not deal with:
  • chemicals covered by positive approval procedures for pesticides, biocides and human and veterinary medicines;
  • exposure to chemicals in the workplace;
  • transport of dangerous chemicals or major accident hazards;
  • chemicals added to food during processing; or
  • measures relating to controls on emissions of chemicals to the environment

Nick Cartwright (Chemicals Policy Manager, Environment Agency) discussed the EA’s perspective on Hormone disrupting chemicals.

He explained that the Agency has assessed the scientific evidence for hormone disruption in wildlife and consulted widely on what should be done. They have devised an approach which takes an integrated view towards environmental protection based on prevention. This involves:

He said that the Agency will use risk management so as to target areas most at risk. He identified the needs for successful risk management as:-

The Agency has carried out an initial assessment of rivers most at risk from low dilution of sewage works effluents.

This assessment resulted in the identification of steroids and nonylphenols as being particularly important with action plans for reduction as follows:-

17b oestradiol
Sewage-treatment works' discharges
  • Develop environmental standards/targets.
  • Identify high risk areas.
  • Improvements to sewage-treatment processes.
Nonylphenol ethoxylate
Octylphenol ethoxylate
Industrial use as surfactants. May enter environment via sewage works.
  • To be phased out by 2000 for some uses.
  • Develop and achieve environmental standards/targets.
  • Reduce emissions from large industrial processes (Part).

Nick identified research needs as: -

Nick also stressed the need for collaboration between all interested parties. In particular in the areas of:-

Nick also pointed out that much of the necessary work was currently in place.

(For updates on the EA programme see http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk – search on hormone disrupting substances.)

Mike Waldock (CEFAS) described the research programme on endocrine disruption in the marine environment (EDMAR) which began in 1998 and with scheduled completion at the end of 2001. The programme is investigating whether there is evidence of changes in the reproductive health of marine life and if so, seeking to identify possible causes and potential impacts on populations.

Previous work carried out by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) had demonstrated that populations of flounder (a common flatfish) in a number of UK estuaries exhibited symptoms of endocrine disruption, specifically those caused by exposure to oestrogens (feminising hormones) and their mimics. These symptoms included the presence of the egg yolk protein vitellogenin (VTG) in male blood plasma and the occurrence (in the Tyne and Mersey) of a condition known as intersex where ovarian tissue was found in the testes of male flounder. This and other work triggered the need for a much larger programme - EDMAR - to investigate whether there is evidence of changes in the reproductive health of marine life and, if so, identify the possible causes. The programme is intended to ensure that any actions necessary to protect the marine environment are targeted appropriately.

The programme is a joint initiative between the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR), the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), the Environment Agency, the Scotland and Northern Ireland Forum for Environmental Research (SNIFFER) and the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC). The overall budget is over £1.4 million and the research is being conducted by five major UK environmental laboratories:

Related work is also being undertaken at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Mike said that results so far indicated that wastewater treatment plant effluents were not a significant problem for hormone disruption in estuarial and coastal water fish.

Progress and results of the EDMAR research programme are reported in a series of newsletters, (http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/hormone/newsletters/index.htm) (adobe downloads) research seminars, and in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.

See also http://www.cefas.co.uk for some relevant publications (adobe downloads)

Gordon Wheale spoke about a new project in the UKWIR research programme – Endocrine Modulating effects of wastewater treatment effluents. This project, which has recently commenced is being carried out by Exeter University and is in collaboration with the Environment Agency. Its objective is to study the effects on native fish development of wastewater effluents that contain potentially endocrine disrupting compounds.

He also mentioned two other on-going projects:-

And two projects for which reports are now available:-

Further details are available on the UKWIR web site – (follow toxicology – endocrine disrupters)

There followed a discussion in which Liz McDonnell commented that there seemed to be a need to take stock and review what current data and information is telling us. Do we have good policies in place to deal with the issue of endocrine disruptors or do we need something else? If so what is it?

Alan Jenkins reported that there was work in progress at CEH Wallingford and, subsequent to the meeting, provided the following details:-

Previous work
The fate and behaviour of the xenobiotic endocrine disrupter octylphenol in different river systems in the UK. The fate and behaviour of steroid oestrogens in different UK river systems. Examining the potential for steroid oestrogens to be sorbed to activated sludge particles. Monitoring of steroid oestrogen concentrations in the effluent of sewage works at Gt. Billing, East Hyde and Harpenden and their dissipation within the receiving waters. Modelling the river dissipation process with EXAMS. Using predictive equations and hydrology information to predict reach/catchments where steroid oestrogen concentrations may exceed possible threshold levels for fish. Using juvenile rainbow trout to examine how suspended sediments may mediate endocrine disruption.

Proposed future work


Johnson, A.C., White, C., Besien, T.J. and Juergens, M.D. (1998). The sorption potential of octylphenol, a xenobiotic oestrogen, to suspended and bed sediments collected from industrial and rural reaches of three English rivers. Science of the Total Environment 210/211, 271-283).

Johnson, A.C., Ulahannan, T. and Williams, R.J. (1999). Comment on “Identification of estrogenic chemicals in STW effluent. 1. Chemical fractionation and in vitro biological screening”. Environmental Science and Technology 33, 369-370.

Johnson, A.C., White, C., Bhardwaj, C.L. and Jürgens, M.D. (2000) The potential for octylphenol to biodegrade in some English rivers. Environmental toxicology and Chemistry 19, 2486-2492.

Johnson, A.C., Belfroid, A., and Di Corcia, A. (2000). Estimating steroid oestrogen inputs to activated sludge treatment works and observations on their removal from the effluent. The Science of the total Environment 256, 163-173.

Johnson, A.C and Sumpter J.P. (2001). Removal of endocrine disrupting chemicals in activated sludge treatment works. Environmental Science & Technology (In Press)

Williams, R.J., Jürgens, M.D. and Johnson, A.C. (1999). Initial predictions of the concentrations and distribution of 17b-oestradiol, oestrone and ethinyloestradiol in 3 English rivers. Water Research, 33, 1663-1671

Jürgens, M.D. and Johnson, A.C. (1999). Das potentielle Verhalten von Steroidostrogenen in Flussen. Markert, B. and Oehlmann, J. Okotoxikologie - okosystemare Ansatze und Methoden. Chapter 54, pages 513-524. August 1999. Munchen - Landsberg, Ecomed Verlagsgesellschaft mbh.

Jürgens, M.D., Holthaus, K.I.E., Johnson, A.C., Smith J.J.L., Hetheridge, M. and Williams, R.J. (2002). The potential for estradiol and ethinylestradiol degradation in English rivers. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (In Press).

Johnson, A.C. (2001). The sorptive behaviour of steroid oestrogens in sewage treatment plants. Report Ref. No. 01/TX/04/2 published by UK Water Industry Research Limited, London.

For further information contact A.C. Johnson at CEH