This week in DC, concern over a scientific study that found “intersex fish” in the Potomac resonated only briefly around my office and circle of friends. I have tried impress my concern upon them that we are, in fact, drinking Potomac River water here in DC (and in some of the surrounding suburbs like Arlington). The question of course is: if this is happening to the fish, what could it mean for us? These intersex fish are male bass, both large and small mouthed, who are developing eggs in their reproductive tissues. They were first discovered in 2003, but the news is that their numbers have increased.


This hermaphroditic phenomenon is thought to happen because of endocrine disruptors, pollutants or chemicals that promote estrogen production, present in the water. The EPA, though conducting ongoing studies on endocrine disruptors, has yet to issue any guidelines to water treatment plants about allowable levels of estrogen in drinking or evacuated waters. This discovery is not limited to the DC area. Elevated levels of endocrine disruptors and estrogen have been detected in U.S. waterways throughout the country by the U.S. Geological Survey (you can read the report through this link). This estrogen appearance can be linked with birth control pills, pharmecuetical company waste water, sewage, or a combination of several pollutants causing unpredictable effects upon our environment and the beings residing in it.


“Experts” have made public announcements that there is no evidence to indicate our drinking water is unsafe.  They attribute this to the fact that fish are at a higher risk for these mutations due to their body size and because they are constantly in the water. I am drinking bottled water.

About Jennifer Veilleux
Dr. Jennifer Veilleux is a geographer, writer, and artist. For more than a decade, she has worked on scientific research and security issues facing water resources shared across political boundaries. Research and curiosity has taken her to more than 50 countries on 5 continents, often to remote locations and marginalized communities. Veilleux takes portraits of people she encounters in her field work and recently released a collection, Portraits from Rivers of Change, that can be viewed here: These portraits highlight two separate communities, one on the Mekong River the other on the Blue Nile River, facing relocation due to dam development. Dr. Veilleux works for Florida International University as a post doctoral associate for the Institute of Water and Environment and manages SELVA, the Serengeti-Lake Victoria Sustainable Water Initiative, a research project on water security of the Mara River in the Upper Nile basin of Tanzania. She maintains a blog, The Way of Water, dedicated to news and commentary about development on the Nile and Mekong, general water resources issues, and special topics related to women in science. She lives in Miami with her cat Mr. FC Sweet Tea.


  1. Yeah, but where is the water in the bottle coming from? Poland Spring comes from a well beside the highway, and bottled water is monitored less than tap water, which is required to be tested by federal and state regs. Don’t assume just cause it’s in a bottle that it’s any better. (And as far as I know, there none of the filters I’ve heard of take out hormones….well water is your best bet, I’d think.

  2. Not to mention the leaching that goes with bottled water. Some of those plasticizers are known endocrine disruptors… and the thinner the plastic (more pliable) the more likely there is leaching. I don’t know about you, but I find water in plastic tastes like plastic anyway. Blechh.

    That being said, I hear you on being wary. I get water bottled in glass sometimes on weekends as a treat. There are a couple I like. I love how people say “how ridiculous – to spend money on water!” To me, its funny that we have just taken water as a given – automatically there and perfect at the turn of a tap. Why not pay a couple of bucks for some clean water now and then, if not near a fresh water source? If air was tainted with smoke and toxins all the time and we had to wear respirators to leave the house, wouldn’t you splurge for some of that gourmet oxygen at an oxygen bar? I would if I could. How easy some will fork it over for that mandatory three dollar espresso, but water – “idiot!”

    Of course, filters are optimum.

    We live near a lime quarry and the water in our house leaves a film on everything. I have tried filtering the water with Pur and Britta filters, and even after boiling, there is still a film on the water. I plan to have it tested, but in the meantime, drinking it doesn’t appeal. Maybe lime is good for you, but the film it leaves is grody.

  3. I realized that, in writing that last bit about the bottled water, I would elicite such responses. But, what is the solution? I drink lots of sparkling mineral water (habit from living in Europe) and cook with flat bottled water, treated with reverse osmosis technique.
    The water here in DC smells. It smells like river water and sometimes runs brown.
    Growing up in New England we drank well water, but unless these wells are coming out of deep aquifers, anything can get into them.
    There is no method of filtration that I know of that actually removes the chemical toxins, like endrocine disruptors, so this is a lucrative area to jump on if you are some sort of inventor/chemist.
    Paying for water is really paying for the technology to treat/package/transport the water. We will see more and more of this as time rolls on I fear as humans are often in love with engineering solutions to problems rather than addressing problems at their root cause.

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