Office: 2118 - Old Main
For a number of years there has been concern over the role certain chemicals might play in disrupting normal endocrine (hormonal) system function in humans and other organisms. Endocrine systems are particularly vulnerable to external influence because they operate with very low hormonal concentrations. Thus, even extremely small concentrations of hormone or hormone-mimicking contaminants can negatively influence such things as gender development in aquatic organisms.
The issue is relevant because low concentrations of many chemicals have been found in natural waters all over the world. Some of these are actual hormones (e.g., estrogens), while others are chemicals that are known or suspected hormone mimics. The sources of these contaminants include industrial effluent (e.g., the plasticizer bisphenol A), agricultural chemicals (e.g., the corn herbicide atrazine and animal industry pharmaceuticals), and human effluents (e.g., pharmaceuticals and cosmetics) that escape degradation in wastewater treatment plants.
We are studying the susceptibility of the lower Embarras watershed (our local river system) to endocrine disruptor contamination. Two goals are to determine IF detectable contaminant concentrations exist, and if so WHEN these concentrations peak. Sensitive screening tests already exist for many classes of compounds and for endocrine disruption activity. Our work focuses on complementary analytical method development to instrumentally measure target compounds at very low (ppb) levels in these waters.