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Meet the Zombie Chemicals That Reassemble at Night and Cause Harm

Meet the Zombie Chemicals That Reassemble at Night and Cause Harm

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water.

We all know that endocrine disruptors like those found in disposable water bottles are bad news, which is why we’ve been changing the way we use containers and other products in our lives. Until recently, though, researchers thought that these chemicals broke down naturally and eventually became inert. That’s why a new discovery is causing such alarm: apparently, endocrine disruptors are capable of reassembling themselves, returning “from the dead like zombies” to cause continuing health problems.

These chemicals can come from steroids and other drugs given to cattle, human medications that end up in the water supply, additives put in plastic products, and a variety of industrial sources. While theoretical pollution controls should keep them out of the water supply in the first place, carelessness and accidents happen, leading to the distribution of hormone disruptors through lakes, rivers and streams. That’s bad for fish, plants and other organisms relying on that water to survive.

Scientists knew that was bad enough, but they believed hormone disruptors broke down in exposure to sunlight. Thus, with every UV cycle, more of the chemicals would be broken down into components that wouldn’t be harmful; nature’s way of addressing the problem, as it were. However, researcher Edward Kolodziej took these chemicals into a lab to see if this was actually the case. He and his team took 17α-trenbolone into their lab and monitored levels through dark and light cycles.

What they found was disturbing. In the light, the chemical broke down, with levels declining. But at night, the level built back up. This explained why testing results could show low levels of endocrine disruptors in a waterway, but animals relying on the water could still show signs of illness and health problems related to excessively high exposure. Depending on when water samples were drawn, scientists would naturally have received radically different readings on chemical concentration, and thus might have drawn false conclusions.

Finally, we have an explanation for why fish and other animals can show signs of hormone disruption even when the concentration of harmful chemicals in their water appears low: because in reality, it isn’t. Every night, these chemicals reform, damaging organisms living in the water and then breaking down again the next day, right in time for a researcher to dip a sampling tube into the water to check on its quality.

Solving a frustrating mystery is great news, but the solution to the mystery is grim. This information indicates that the situation with pollution in lakes and streams is an even bigger problem than previously believed, and that new methods are necessary to tackle the issue. It’s not enough for chemicals to break down once if they’ll just be back the next night, and that makes it even more critical to control them at their source. Without that, their levels will keep building up in our waterways, causing a growing number of health problems for aquatic animals and plants.

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Photo credit: epSos.de.

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98 comments

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8:08AM PDT on Jun 2, 2014

thanks for sharing

11:21PM PST on Jan 19, 2014

Very scary. We must do our part to not trash the planet. Thanks for sharing.

6:41PM PDT on Oct 11, 2013

We humans need to admit that we DO HARM the environment and TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for CLEANLY DISPOSING of our waste and inventing innovative solutions for bottled water and other products which we produce. It would save alot of unneccessary deaths of plant and amimal life, we would be saving the planet and ourselves as well. I'd like to see people of all walks of life come up with practical solutions to resolve these issues. As difficult as they may APPEAR to be, there MUST be a solution out there somewhere. Not all solutions to problems have come from so called 'experts' in their individual fields. Sometimes they've come from teenagers, retied people, and people who hold no formal tertiary qualifications, to name but a few. So come on people, get your thinking caps on. Scientists should share their findings with members of the public so that we can collaborate on solutions TOGETHER and BOTH receive any credit.

8:32PM PDT on Oct 9, 2013

ICK. TY FOR POSTING

12:23PM PDT on Oct 8, 2013

Who ever thought it was safe to go in the water? Just read about all the chemicals, sewage, etc.,that are pouring into every water source the world over, and it makes it very clear that NO water is safe!

11:03PM PDT on Oct 7, 2013

We have to STOP damaging our planet !!! WE live here and so do a lot of other creatures. We are killing them AND we are slowly killing our planet AND ourselves. It's time to STOP IT !

6:13AM PDT on Oct 7, 2013

Would you throw trash into your living room?

Why do you throw trash in wild creatures' living room?

Don't even think about you might be taking someone's job because you didn't litter. You are freeing him up to do something more worthwhile.

Cigarette butts do not decompose either.

1:28AM PDT on Oct 7, 2013

Gross.

9:14PM PDT on Oct 6, 2013

So sad.

9:06PM PDT on Oct 6, 2013

just like the zombie corporations- hiding from light.

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