Researchers have called for closer monitoring of pharma manufacturing discharges after detecting endocrine disruption in fish downstream from a Sanofi plant.
The presence of pharmaceutical compounds in waterways is often attributed to treatment plants and hospitals, but new research suggests drug production facilities are impacting on aquatic ecosystems.
“Fish living downstream from pharmaceutical manufacture discharge exhibited severe signs of endocrine disruption, high proportion of intersex fish and a male-biased sex-ratio”, a team of French researchers wrote in the latest edition of Environment International .
The adverse effects were seen in gudgeons downstream from a Sanofi steroid hormone production site in Vertolaye in central France. Fish were sampled at three sites in 2008 and again in 2009. More adverse effects were seen in populations found at the two sites downstream of the plant.
“Results of this field study argue for the deployment of specific monitoring of pharmaceutical factory discharges, capable of assessing health of fish and aquatic communities”, the researchers wrote.
Sanofi told Nature it is difficult to know how widespread the problem is as no effects have been observed in other fish species. Regulators, researchers and Sanofi are working together to identify what factors are causing the disturbances.
Limitations and responses
Researchers also acknowledged limitations of the study. “No cause–effect relationship can be firmly established between fish exposure to APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients), individual and population disturbances”, wrote the researchers.
However, the authors think “evidence supports the hypothesis that these compounds induce observed adverse effects” and is sufficiently strong to justify closer monitoring of discharges from production plants.
Better understanding of the effects mixtures of APIs have on aquatic ecosystems and policy decisions to protect fisheries are also needed, according to the researchers.