Sentinels test Santa Fe River for hormones

By Irina Goldstein, Water Specialist and
Teresa Seamster, Northern New Mexico Group chair

Sierra Club’s Water Sentinel program is one of several grassroots initiatives that help to supplement federal and state efforts to monitor national surface-water resources.

As part of this initiative, the Sierra Club Northern New Mexico Group conducted water-quality testing for presence of hormones, PCBs and heavy metals in the Santa Fe River downstream from the City of Santa Fe’s wastewater treatment plant.

The water samples were analyzed for 17 hormones. The results detected presence of two hormones in water samples:

  1. Androstenedion is an androgenic steroid hormone that regulates sexual characteristics and is used to enhance athletic and sexual performance.
  2. Androsteron is a metabolite of androstenedion and testosterone and is mostly used as a supplement by bodybuilders to boost strength and muscle mass. Some companies use these hormones in pheromone perfumes. Steroid androgens are also administered to humans for medical reasons.

Although reported test results indicate only two hormones at concentrations greater than reporting levels, we cannot state with certainty that water in the Santa Fe River at the sampling point is free from other hormones. For example, the indicated reporting level for highly estrogenic 17a-ethinylestradiol (EE2) is 5.0 ng/L, which means that concentrations lower than reporting level could not be detected by the lab used for this analysis. The potential threat of EE2 in an aquatic environment is reflected in the decision of the European Commission to list it in the Water Framework Directive proposed regulatory standard for EE2 at 0.035 ng/L.

Aspects of hormone contamination: There are many ways hormones can enter the environment. Until recently, it has been widely believed that hormones enter the environment mostly through human excretion and the disposal of unused medications into toilets, sink, and landfills. Adeel et al. (2017) suggest that “the possible release of estrogens to the environment from livestock is much higher.” It was reported that “in the United States and European Union, the annual estrogen discharge by livestock, at 83,000 kg a year, is more than twice the rate of human discharge (Shrestha et al. 2012).”

EE2 and MeEE2 are synthetic estrogens used in contraceptives, in treatment of various reproductive system disorders and in hormone replacement therapy. They are also referred to as endocrine active compounds, because of their disruptive effect on endocrine function. Some studies have linked EE2 harmful effects on aquatic life at levels as low as 0.1 ng/L. These negative impacts include feminization of male population, fertility and loss of fish. Clearly, potential impact of hormones and other pharmaceuticals on the environment remains an area in need of greater research.

Contaminants of emerging concern: Hormones, among other pharmaceuticals and chemical compounds, are often referred to as Contaminants of Emerging Concern. This term is used to encompass unregulated substances that were recently discovered in water sources and can potentially be harmful to ecosystems and human health.

Improved analytical methods, coupled with persistent environmental awareness may help move CECs to becoming included in routine monitoring programs.

Featured image from WikiMedia Commons

Sentinels test Santa Fe River for hormones