An overview of recent studies on the potential of pulp‐mill effluents to alter reproductive parameters in fish
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In the early 1990s, many Canadian pulp and paper mills implemented process changes to comply with new regulations that came into effect in 1993. These regulations placed stricter guidelines on a number of parameters in effluent discharges, including limits on acute toxicity, on the discharges of suspended solids, and on biochemical oxygen demand. To meet these new regulations, many of the older Canadian pulp and paper mills had to install secondary treatment systems. The investment by the Canadian pulp and paper industry was in excess of $5 billion, and the implementation of the new regulations and the process changes took several years. The new regulations were an extension of regulations designed in the early 1970s and were not designed specifically to address the reproductive responses recently reported in fish collected downstream of mills in Scandinavia and North America. This report describes a series of projects conducted between 1991 and 1996 to evaluate the effectiveness of the new regulations to address the issue of reproductive responses in fish associated with exposure to pulp-mill effluents. These studies have shown that the existing short-term bioassays do not adequately predict the potential of effluents to affect reproduction in wild fish. Laboratory testing using fathead minnows exposed over a full life cycle confirmed depression in sex steroid production, delay in sexual maturity, reduced egg production, and changes in secondary sex characteristics documented at some sites. Our studies demonstrated that both steroid hormone changes and induction of liver detoxification enzymes take place quickly. While short-term exposures can predict the potential of some effluents to impact steroid hormone production, there is no readily available assay that can be widely applied. In the absence of a usable and transferable laboratory bioassay, field collections were conducted at a number of sites. Generalizations are not possible at this time, but impacts have been seen at a variety of sites, and partial recovery has been documented at five sites in North America following various process and waste treatment changes. Data gaps and critical research areas are identified.
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