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From faucet to womb

Daniel BuenoTiny doses of chemicals that affect hormonal function have been detected by multiple studies in the tap water of many cities. Experts know these substances as endocrine disruptors. They are contaminants that originate from human activity and are not satisfactorily eliminated by water treatment stations. During her doctoral work at the São Paulo State University (Unesp), Botucatu campus, pathologist Marize Solano went beyond simply detecting these chemicals in the water. She analyzed the effects of tap water samples collected in 2010 and 2012 in the city of Campinas, inland São Paulo State, on the reproductive development of female rats. Though slight, the effects indicated an accelerated development of puberty, especially in the case of the samples from 2010. Three days drinking the water – which contained caffeine, atrazine, and estrone, among other chemicals – were enough for the researchers to observe increases in uterus weight and endometrial thickness, both indicators of estrogenic response. After a more extended exposure, of 20 days, the rats presented hormonal alterations, especially in levels of the follicle stimulating and luteinizing hormones (Endocrine Disruptors, May 2015). The effects observed are still subtle and have been reported only for rodents, but may raise a red flag for humans – especially considering the prolonged periods during which tap water is consumed during a lifetime.