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Keywords:

  • Fathead minnow;
  • Walleye;
  • Pulp mill effluent;
  • Hypoxia;
  • Endocrine disruption

Abstract

The ability of some pulp mill effluents (PME) to act as reproductive and endocrine disrupters in fish is well documented in the literature. However, changes are not always consistent with regard to species, gender, hormones, or reproductive effects. In the present study, the presence of the first intersexed fish that, to our knowledge, has been found in a Canadian river exposed to PME, is reported. A field survey of the Wabigoon River near Dryden, Ontario, in the fall of 2000 found intersexed walleye (Sander vitreus vitreus) with significantly altered hormone levels and reduced gonad size. The Wabigoon River receives discharge from a bleached kraft pulp and paper mill and a municipal wastewater (MWW) plant. It also has historical sediment contamination (wood fiber mats) contributing to extended periods of low dissolved oxygen under low flow, drought conditions. A mesocosm-based partial life cycle test exposing fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) to reference water, 20% effluent volume to river volume (v/v), 40% (v/v), or 60% (v/v) PME as well as a field survey of the walleye in the Wabigoon River were conducted. The only change in our mesocosm exposure was a decrease in testosterone in males with increasing effluent concentration and vitellogenin induction in males exposed to 60% (v/v) effluent. These results did not reflect the magnitude of endocrine disruption seen in the wild fish survey. Several hypotheses that may explain these discrepancies are proposed. Specifically, evidence is offered from published studies indicating that either hypoxia or MWW, alone or in combination with PME, may explain the discrepancy between our field experiment and the wild fish survey. The present study illustrates the complexities of multistressor receiving environments and the need for the development of cumulative effects assessment approaches. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2010;29:952–965. © 2010 SETAC