Feminized Fish, Environmental Estrogens, and Wastewater Effluents in English Rivers

Part of the Emerging Topics in Ecotoxicology book series (ETEP, volume 3)


Our story on the feminization of wild roach (Rutilus rutilus) populations in English Rivers is a product of many years of research in collaboration with various colleagues. Over the past 20 years, we have shown that male roach are being feminized as a consequence of exposure to effluents from wastewater treatment works (WwTWs). Here we provide a history of wastewater treatment in England to illustrate how the treatment processes in operation today have been developed and to show why many English Rivers still suffer problems associated with WwTW effluent discharges. We recount the history of finding feminized roach and how, through combined field and laboratory studies, we have identified which chemicals in WwTW effluents cause the intersex condition (principally environmental estrogens) and that feminized males have a reduced breeding capability. We also discuss our work investigating how the feminized effects in male roach might affect the genetics of subsequent populations. The weight of evidence showing adverse effects of estrogenic endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in WwTW effluents on fish has been a major influence on the development of the so-called national Endocrine Disrupter Demonstration Programme (EDDP) – an initiative set up by the UK water companies and the Environment Agency of England and Wales. The objectives of this program have guided our recent research to investigate the most cost-effective methods for EDC removal from effluents. Our journey over the past two decades has been both exciting and challenging but, most importantly, it has helped raise awareness on the need for a better understanding of EDCs and their potential environmental and human health impacts. Finally, in the wider context, we share some of the lessons we have learned from our research on the feminization of roach in English rivers that are relevant to the future protection of aquatic wildlife from discharged chemicals.


Granular Activate Carbon Fathead Minnow Steroid Estrogen Environmental Estrogen Estrogenic Potency 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Much of the research on roach reported in this review was funded on grants from the UK Research Councils (NERC and EPSRC), the Environment Agency of England and Wales, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). The authors would like to thank research colleagues, post-docs and Ph.D. students who have contributed to the work reviewed in this chapter. Special thanks to Alan Henshaw and his team at the Environment Agency’s Fish Production unit for their invaluable help and advice over the years on roach breeding and husbandry.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biosciences, Hatherly LaboratoriesUniversity of ExeterExeterUK

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