Sandra Steingraber

"I think one of the emerging lines of evidence coming to us now from field biology is the idea that so much of what we're using and discharging into our river systems has the power to alter hormonal systems in animals, not just us, but in fish and in invertebrates and all kinds of things. So that what you see is altered reproductive status in fish and other animals living just downstream from where sewage treatment plants are releasing or discharging what's left over after we've gotten done flushing our toilets and emptying our septic tanks and everything that comes to the sewage system.

"So we're not just worried about chemicals so caustic that they're going to kill on contact. We're not just worried about chemicals that are going to cause a river to burst into flames, which was, of course, the images from the 60s and 70s that finally brought the attention of the health of our freshwater systems into our national consciousness. Now what we need to be concerned about are these more invisible chemicals that you can't necessarily see on the surface, you can't necessarily smell, but that have the ability to penetrate into the bodies of living things and turn on and turn off certain genes and alter certain hormonal receptor sites such that males appear to be feminized, you have sort of hermaphroditic fish species.

"Again, I think anytime you see aquatic animals showing signs of physiological changes due to chemicals in our freshwater systems that we humans have put there it's a message to ourselves.

"It's not just empathy for the clams and the fish that urge us to action because the same genetic systems that control hormones in fish govern what happens to us as well. I know a lot of us like to think that when we see yet another story of a deformed frog, you know, and there are plenty of these now showing that you can take a tadpole and grow it in finished tap water in a lot of communities and even though the pesticide levels in the finished tap water meet all the EPA requirements for being under the maximum contaminant level that tadpole is still incapable of growing into a healthy normal undeformed frog in that water. And in fact, things happen to that tadpole along its development leading to certain physical malformations in the adult.

"We like to think, 'well, we don't live in water, we're not so closely bound to water as frogs, so maybe our fate is not so bound up in this problem as these amphibians.' But again, here's the role that women and mothers need to play, because we need to remind ourselves but we're all amphibians at the beginning of our lives. For the first nine months of our life when all of those organ systems in the whole human body is just being assembled we live in water, and that amniotic fluid comes from somewhere.

"It comes from blood plasma, which comes from the water that a woman drinks;
It comes from orange juice;
It comes from the milk she poured into her tea;
It comes from the honey;
It comes from what she had for dinner last night.

"So I think its time for us to realize that we have a shared fate with the other animals that live around us."