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Endocrine Disruptor Study Buried At The Pinelands Commission

Dual Sexed Fish Found In NJ Rivers

Industry Strategy Is To Manufacture Scientific Uncertainty And Delay And Avoid Regulation

Was It Big Pharma Or Big Foundation That Buried The Study?

BMS, Pennington, NJ

BMS, Pennington, NJ

Theo Colborn’s 1995 book “Our Stolen Future” put the public health and ecological harms of an unregulated class of chemicals known as endocrine disruptors on the public radar screen.

Given the powerful corporate interests and huge economic stakes that book impacted, it’s no surprise that Big Pharma has effectively mounted a strategy to avoid regulation, much like the oil industry’s denial, delay and diversion campaign that sabotaged climate science and delayed regulation. As a result, the endocrine disruptor issue has virtually disappeared and environmental regulators were neutered, particularly in NJ, the corporate home of Big Pharma.

I’ve written many times about the issue, but there’s been no crossover to mainstream media and my work has been ignored by the Foundation funded and neutered environmental groups. I summarized those efforts in this 2015 post:

And this February 2016 post:

More recently, back in June 2021, when DEP issued the Statewide Dirty Water Report, I again tried to get some focus on these issues. I wrote:

5. DEP Is Ignoring The Impacts Of Toxic Unregulated Chemicals, Like Pharmaceuticals and Endocrine Disruptors

Unfortunately, not everyone knows that DEP knows that there are over 500 unregulated chemicals present in NJ waters and that those chemicals have unknown toxic effects on ecosystems, fisheries, and human health. …

Two major categories of those unregulated chemicals include pharmaceuticals and endocrine disruptors.

For the implications of endocrine disruptors, see:

For the implications of pharmaceuticals, see:

As far as I know, the endocrine disruptors story was engaged only once by NJ media. On January 31, 2016, the Bergen Record reported on the USGS study:

Male fish in two of North Jersey’s most protected areas have developed female sexual characteristics, suggesting parts of the Wallkill River in Sussex County and the Great Swamp in Morris County are contaminated with chemicals that throw hormone systems radically off.

The Delaware River, and now the Wallkill and Great Swamp have dual sexed fish? I guess that Bergen Record story shocked the NJ public and put pressure on DEP regulators. In response, the Big Pharma public relations people sprang into action.

Shortly after the Record story ran, in early April 2016, I revealed the Big Pharma/Big Foundation gameplan:

Our friends at the Pinelands Commission jumped on the canary autopsy bandwagon last friday, with this corporate friendly Penn Foundation grant proposal (note how the forensic autopsy funder, the Wm. Penn Foundation, is not even mentioned by Pinelands Commission):

Grant Proposal Presentation Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) have been linked to reproductive and developmental abnormalities in fish and amphibians. Surface-water discharge of wastewater is a major point source of EDCs to aquatic systems and on-site septic systems and chemical use associated with development and agriculture represent non-point sources of EDCs. Commission and USGS scientists propose to sample surface water, fish, and frogs at on-stream and off-stream sites with potential point and non-point sources of EDCs and compare these results to minimally impacted reference sites. All animals will be assessed histologically for measures of endocrine disruption and surface water from all sites will be analyzed for approximately one hundred known or suspected EDCs. A letter of intent was accepted and a full proposal requested for possible funding through the Delaware Watershed Research Fund. 

So, 3 years from now, we will get a report that there are dual sexed fish and/or abnormal frogs in the Pinelands. 

Meanwhile, pregnant women are drinking water that contains chemicals that can cause harm to their developing fetus at extremely low levels – parts per quadrillion – and Big Pharma has EPA and NJ DEP regulators on a short leash, safely doing more forensic autopsies and non-action “screening” of “emergent contaminants” that never seem to fully emerge.

At the time, I found it odd that the Pinelands would be the focus of an endocrine disruptors study. The Pinelands are perhaps the most pristine environment in NJ, and perhaps the last place to look for these chemicals. Although the Commission has strong expertise on ecological science, the Pinelands Commission lacks the toxicological expertise to evaluate human health impacts.

Most importantly, the Pinelands Commission lacks regulatory jurisdiction over the use and discharge of these chemicals.

All of that belong to the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), where the study should have been conducted. 

I initially thought that the Pinelands Commission study would take 3 years.

But it’s been over 5 years, so I looked into the status of the Penn Foundation’s grant and research project.

According to the Pinelands Commission’s 2020 Annual Report: (@ page 16-17)

Endocrine Disruption Study

The William Penn Foundation is funding scientific research in the Delaware River Watershed through the Delaware Watershed Research Fund, which is administered by The Academy of Natural Sciences. The Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer, which underlies the Pinelands, was identified as one of the research areas eligible for funding. Commission scientists and U.S. Geological Survey scientists Kelly Smalling, Dr. Vicki Blazer, and Heather Walsh proposed a study to investigate point and non-point sources of endocrine disrupting chemicals and the potential impacts on fish and frogs in the Pinelands. The study was awarded funding in 2016.

The endocrine system is a collection of tissues in animals that produce hormones to regulate essential life processes, such as metabolism, tissue function, reproduction, and development. A large group of natural and synthetic chemicals are known to disrupt endocrine function. Examples include plant hormones, plastic components, flame retardants, surfactants, fragrances, and pesticides. Endocrine disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, are a global environmental problem and have been linked to reproductive and developmental abnormalities in a variety of animal species, especially fish and amphibians.

Commission and U.S. Geological Survey scientists proposed to sample water chemistry and fish above and below municipal wastewater treatment plants, which represent direct point sources of EDCs, and water chemistry and frogs at ponds and stormwater basins, which may receive indirect non-point sources of EDCs from runoff and the aquifer. Results from these sites will be compared to those from appropriate, minimally impacted reference sites.

In 2017, 2018, and 2019, green frogs were collected from ponds and stormwater basins for histological analysis, and water chemistry was sampled at the sites on multiple occasions. In 2019, fish were collected from stream sites above and below a sewage treatment plant for histological analysis, and water chemistry was also sampled. In 2020, fish were collected at lakes above and below a different sewage treatment plant for histological analysis by U.S. Geological Survey scientists. All field work for the project has been completed.

Field work was completed over a year ago. Which prompts important questions:

  • Why is there no information about this study on the Pinelands Commission Science website?
  • Where is the study?
  • Where is the data?
  • Where is the public education and participation process?
  • Where is the Pinelands Commission and DEP’ regulatory response?
  • Where is the media?
  • Where are environmental groups?

Will anyone ask these questions?

I have an informal request in to the Pinelands Commission, but haven’t heard back for over a week in what should be a routine response. On 10/21/21 I wrote:

Can you provide the status of that Report and an estimate or timetable for its release?

Is a draft Report available to the public?

Will there be a public review process for this  Report?

Appreciate anything you could do to expedite (as with climate work as well!).


We’ll keep you posted – but I’m not holding my breath.

[End Note: Informal requests having failed, I filed this formal OPRA request just now:

I request copies of public records regarding this study, including:
1) field sampling data,
2) draft or final reports,
3) staff analysis of the data,
4) correspondence between Commission staff and other study researchers and funders, including Wm. Penn Foundation, USGS, Academy of Natural Sciences, and NJ DEP,
5) meeting agendas, attendees, and notes regarding this study,
6) internal Commission staff emails regard this study,
7) Commission staff briefing memos or recommendations regarding this study,
8) any communications between Commission staff and external parties,
9) communications between staff, the Executive Director, Legal Counsel and Pinelands Commission regarding this study.
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