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Abel Wolman in the JHU School of Engineering co-develops the chlorination formula to make municipal water supplies safe.
Abel Wolman in the JHU School of Engineering co-develops the chlorination formula to make municipal water supplies safe. (Mark Andersen, Getty Images)

The University of Maryland has been awarded a $238,055 federal grant to study the factors behind the intersex fish found in various places in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski announced Tuesday.

The grant, from the U.S. Geological Survey, will enable UM researchers to explore the source and effects of certain pharmaceutical products on aquatic organisms after they enter the bay watershed through wastewater treatment plant discharges or in agricultural runoff. Of particular interest are "gestagens," natural and synthetic contraceptives and hormone replacements.

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"To adequately protect our drinking water supplies and overall public health, we must understand the cause of the abnormal fish we are seeing locally," said Cardin, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works water and wildlife subcommittee.  He said the UM study would be the first of its kind.

Mikulski, who is chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which funds USGS, said that through the grant, "we will better understand changes to Maryland's fish population critical to both fishers and consumers."

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Fish with intersex characteristics - immature eggs in male fish - have been found in the Potomac and Susquehanna river basins, USGS scientists have reported.  Bass, in particular, appear sensitive to exposure to chemicals that act like estrogens, or hormones.

"The sources of estrogenic chemicals are most likely complex mixtures from both agricultural sources, such as animal wastes, pesticides and herbicides, and human sources from wastewater treatment plant effluent and other sewage discharges," Vicki Blazer, a USGS researcher, said in June in announcing finding intersex fish in a trio of Pennsylvania rivers, including the Delaware and Ohio, which do not drain into the Chesapeake.

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