ShareThis Page
Home

Local catfish found to be missing genitalia

| Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Dan Volz noticed something missing as he dissected channel catfish caught in the water off Point State Park -- their genitalia.

"It was kind of like a streak of tissue, and we couldn't tell whether it was male or female," said Volz, a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health professor who is leading a project to test local fish for contaminants. About 25 percent of the catfish Volz dissected couldn't be categorized as male or female.

Extract from fish caught in Western Pennsylvania's rivers showed unnatural levels of materials that mimic the female hormone estrogen. When "fed" to breast cancer cells in the laboratory, the extract more than doubled the rate of cancer growth, according to a study presented Tuesday at the American Association for Cancer Research in Los Angeles.

One concern is that much of the region's drinking water comes from the rivers.

"We chose fish to look at because they're better at showing whether there is a problem in the river than actually even measuring chemicals in the water, because (fish) accumulate these chemicals," Volz said. "They can serve as sentinels for problems related to contaminants in our drinking water."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not require that drinking water be tested for estrogen or that the hormone be removed. Western Pennsylvania's drinking water is not tested for estrogen, said Stan States, the water quality manager for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.

There is a statewide advisory against eating more than a half-pound of fish caught in Pennsylvania waters each week because of the risk of unidentified contaminants. Catfish from the Allegheny River in Allegheny County should be eaten only once a month, and catfish from the Ohio and Monongahela rivers in Allegheny County never should be eaten.

Fish with indistinguishable genitalia and unnatural estrogen levels have been found in many other rivers, including the Detroit River in Michigan and Potomac River in West Virginia.

The Pitt research is part of a larger project to look for contaminants in Western Pennsylvania's rivers. Local fishermen caught 132 channel catfish and white bass in the Ohio River near Point State Park, the Monongahela River near the Braddock Dam and the Allegheny River near the Highland Park Dam and in Kittanning.

Volz said industrial waste and municipal sewage -- which contains birth control and hormone replacement therapy drugs -- are likely sources for the estrogen-mimicking chemicals found in the fish.

A random sample of 25 of the fish caught were tested for estrogen and their effect on cells from a type of breast cancer that responds to the hormone. Extract from five of the 19 catfish sampled and six of the bass caused the cancer to grow.

"In some cases ... estrogen was present (in the fish) in levels similar to a woman's natural hormone levels," said Patricia K. Eagon, an associate professor in Pitt's School of Medicine, who tested the fish.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me