'Gender-bender' threat in sewage

From AAP
04sep01

A "GENDER-bending" cocktail of hormones, steroids and antibiotics is passing through the NSW sewage system untreated, an environmental group has warned.

Compounds and chemicals from substances such as birth control pills were not being detected or treated by the state's sewage treatment plants (STPs), according to a report by the Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC).

"These chemicals and compounds are passed through the human body in varying concentrations and follow the usual path through the sewage treatment process," the NCC said.

The report found that NSW STPs were failing to detect or treat endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) - also known as "gender-benders" - contained in contraceptive pills, some pesticides, steroids and hormone treatments.

The chemicals have been shown to alter the gender characteristics of wildlife, posing a danger to humans if passed into the food chain, the group claimed.

They were also passed on by fish stocks contaminated near STP outfalls, food crops sprayed with reused effluent or fertilised with recycled biosolids, and animal stocks consuming soil or feed contaminated with reused effluent or biosolids, the report said.

NCC executive officer Kathryn Ridge warned if STPs failed to identify and treat EDCs they would pass directly into the environment.

"The main characteristic of these compounds and chemicals is that they do not break down or dissolve once they enter a waterway," she said.

"Rather, they accumulate and if fish or birds consume them they will enter a food chain that includes humans.

"Our report has confirmed that no STPs in NSW are even looking for, let alone treating, these chemicals and compounds, and this will simply have to change if we are to avert an on-going ecological catastrophe.

"Even though there is no evidence that humans have ever been affected by EDCs in sewage, we do know that these compounds can alter human gender characteristics and fertility when consumed medically.

"These compounds have been proven to alter the gender characteristics of wildlife when they pass through sewage treatment plants."

The authors of the report, Peter Randall and Greg Abood, said hat key pollutants of concern can be found in a myriad of drugs approved for subsidy by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, worth more than $3 billion per year and rising.

The report, called Black Water - Grey Areas, was compiled after a comprehensive audit of the state's STPs.

Comment is being sought from Sydney Water.