A common chemical compound found in a wide range of household products is the prime suspect for widespread liver tumors found in California's marine estuaries by researchers from California Polytechnical State University, San Luis Obispo.
According to a journal paper article published in Chemosphere [87 (2012) 490-97)] the compound is nonylphenol ethoxylate which is banned in Europe, but widely used in the United States as a stabilizer in plastics, a spermicide in contraceptives, a softening agent in toilet paper and a surfactant (wetting agent) in detergents, agricultural sprays and personal care products.
What's more, the wastewater treatment process creates an endocrine disrupting compound (EDC) -- 4-nonynlphenol (4-NP) -- that builds up in the environment and accumulates in the food chain.
4-NP acts as a "xenoestrogen" (xeno- meaning, foreign, not native to an organism) and has been shown to disrupt reproduction and cause liver damage in fish and other marine organisms.
The CalPoly researchers looked at four California estuaries -- Morro Bay, San Francisco Bay, Drake's Bay and Tomales Bay.
They found that 4-NP accumulated in the food chain at every step, from ghost shrimp, mussels and oysters up through fish, seabirds and mammals.
While the NP-4 concentrations were some times as low as 1 nanogram/liter, the bioaccumulation factors at the top of the food chain (mammals) were 1,793 to 8,762 times higher for Sea Lions and Otters.
No inference was drawn for human consumption.
The distribution of 4-nonylphenol in marine organisms of North American Pacific Coast estuaries
- Jennifer Diehl, Sarah E. Johnson, Kang Xia, Amy West Lars Tomanek