The Potomac Conservancy has launched
a campaign that encourages the public to get involved in the issue.
The Potomac Conservancy’s
Fish Mystery Campaign hopes to enlighten the public about what it can do and to
encourage government to spend more money researching intersex fish.
A 2008 study found that
about 77 percent of the male small mouth bass in the South Branch of the
Potomac had started producing female eggs.
“We’ve got to figure out
what the heck is going on here,” Hedrick Belin,
Potomac Conservancy president, said.
“And we’ve got to figure it
out sooner rather than later because it’s clear the longer this mystery
continues it’s only going to lead to bad things yet to be discovered.”
The Conservancy had a telephone
press conference Tuesday morning to launch the Fish Mystery campaign.
Vicki Blazer, U.S Geological
Survey fishery biologist, has been researching intersex fish.
Blazer suspects the fish
develop characteristics of the opposite sex because they are exposed to a group
of chemicals called endocrine disrupting compounds that mimic female and male
But she’s been unable to
pinpoint exactly what chemicals are causing intersex fish and where they’re
For example, she tested fish
up and down stream from sewage treatment plants to determine whether the plants
could be a source of endocrine disrupting compounds, but found no difference in
Blazer said run
from farms is another potential source.
“In fertilizer there’s
natural estrogen and testosterone and other things and the pesticides and
herbicides so if we can hopefully pinpoint some of those mixtures or individual
chemicals that then perhaps we could manage better,” Blazer said.
While Blazer works to solve
the mystery of how chemicals might be altering the biology of small mouth bass,
she said the effects on people are relatively unknown.
“It’s going to be a lot
harder to get to how these chemicals affect people because of course you can’t
experiment on people like we do on fish so that’s very difficult too,” Blazer
The Potomac Conservancy
wants everyone to help solve the problem by not flushing drugs down the toilet
and cutting down on using herbicides and pesticides for lawn and garden
Blazer said buying the right
products can also help.
“The chemicals that are in
personal care products such as some of the antimicrobials, fragrances, are
endocrine disruptors,” Blazer said. “So being smart about the kinds of products
you’re buying because they are available in things that are fragrance-free,
antimicrobial-free, things like that, are things that individuals can do.”
The Potomac Conservancy is
also pushing Congress to pass legislation that will force
companies to prove chemicals are
safe before they’re available to the public.