Environmental Estrogens in an Urban Aquatic Ecosystem: II. Biological Effects


College of Health

Date of this version


Document Type



urban aquatic ecosystem, contaminants of emerging concern, fish, vitellogenin, histopathology


Urban aquatic ecosystems are often overlooked in toxicological studies even though they serve many ecosystem functions and sustain fish populations despite large-scale habitat alterations. However, urban fish populations are likely exposed to a broad range of stressors, including environmental estrogens (EEs) that may affect anatomy, physiology and reproduction of exposed fish. Although significant progress has been made in establishing ecological consequences of EE exposure, these studies have focused largely on hydrologically simple systems that lack the complexity of urban aquatic environments. Therefore, the objective of this study was to assess the occurrence and biological effects of EEs across a large urbanized aquatic ecosystem. A multi-pronged study design was employed relying on quantitative determination of select EEs by liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry and repeated biological monitoring of wild-caught and caged fish for indications of endocrine disruption. Over three years, EEs were measured in aqueous samples (n = 42 samples) and biological effects assessed in N1200 male fish across the 2000 km2 aquatic ecosystems of the Greater Metropolitan Area of Chicago, IL. Our study demonstrated that in addition to water reclamation plant (WRP) effluents, non-WRP sources contribute significant EE loads to the aquatic ecosystem. While resident and caged male fish responded with the induction of the egg-yolk protein vitellogenin, an indicator of EE exposure, neither resident nor caged sunfish exhibited prevalent histopathological changes to their reproductive organs (i.e., intersex) that have been reported in other studies. Vitellogenin induction was greater in spring than the fall and was not correlated with body condition factor, gonadosomatic index or hepatosomatic index. Exposure effects were not correlated with sites downstream of treated effluent discharge further affirming the complexity of sources and effects of EEs in urban aquatic ecosystems.


DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2013.08.006



Published in

Environmental International

Citation/Other Information

Schultz, M.M., Minarik, T.A., Martinovic-Weigelt, D., Curran, E.M., Bartell, S.E. & Schoenfuss, H.L. (Fall, 2013). Environmental Estrogens in an Urban Aquatic Ecosystem: II. Biological Effects. Environment International, 61, 138-149. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2013.08.006