21 October 2005
Concern has been raised in recent years that exposure to wastewater treatment effluents containing estrogenic chemicals can disrupt the endocrine functioning of riverine fish and cause permanent alterations in the structure and function of the reproductive system. Reproductive disorders may not necessarily arise as a result of estrogenic effects alone, and there is a need for a better understanding of the relative importance of endocrine disruption in relation to other forms of toxicity. Here, the integrated health effects of long-term effluent exposure are reported (reproductive, endocrine, immune, genotoxic, nephrotoxic). Early life-stage roach, Rutilus rutilus, were exposed for 300 days to treated wastewater effluent at concentrations of 0, 15.2, 34.8, and 78.7% (with dechlorinated tap water as diluent). Concentrations of treated effluents that induced feminization of male roach, measured as vitellogenin induction and histological alteration to gonads, also caused statistically significant alterations in kidney development (tubule diameter), modulated immune function (differential cell count, total number of thrombocytes), and caused genotoxic damage (micronucleus induction and single-strand breaks in gill and blood cells). Genotoxic and immunotoxic effects occurred at concentrations of wastewater effluent lower than those required to induce recognizable changes in the structure and function of the reproductive endocrine system. These findings emphasize the need for multiple biological end points in tests that assess the potential health effects of wastewater effluents. They also suggest that for some effluents, genotoxic and immune end points may be more sensitive than estrogenic (endocrine-mediated) end points as indicators of exposure in fish.