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Images: Tracking an Elusive Chemical: Estrogens

(Illustration by Amy Caracappa-Qubeck, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

MIT/WHOI graduate student David Griffith stands next to an actual-size model of a diffuser at the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority Deer Island sewage treatment plant. Treated sewage is piped offshore. Diffusers discharge it near the seafloor in deep water, where it mixes with a large body of water. (Photo courtesy of David Griffith, MIT/WHOI Joint Program)

Back in the lab at WHOI, David Griffith analyzes samples of seawater he collected in Massachusetts Bay to detect minute quantities of estrogens in the ocean. (Photo by Ken Kostel, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Estrogens are a family of hormones that are essential for growth and development and are produced naturally by living things including humans. Other estrogens are produced synthetically for products such as birth control pills, and these estrogens can eventually enter the ocean when pills are flushed down toilets or thrown away. Synthetic estrogens in birth control pills also enter the ocean after being excreted from the body and flushed down toilets. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)