Queen awards research linking water pollution to low sperm counts

The Queen has awarded a team of researchers from Brunel University for their pioneering work linking chemical pollutants in rivers with declining sperm counts and cancer.

Setting out to develop methods to protect the environment from the effects of hormones and similar chemical pollutants, researchers from the Institute of the Environment at Brunel University, were awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Further & Higher Education at Buckingham Palace earlier this week.

Professors John Sumpter and Susan Jobling, who led the project, secured the award for the impact of their two decades of research, which uncovered a link between exposure to water pollution and sex change in male fish in UK rivers, as well as finding evidence that pharmaceuticals consumed by people are inefficiently removed by water treatment processes and pass into rivers and drinking water.

Professor John Sumpter said “The long-term aim of our research and teaching is to ensure that society thinks more carefully about the use of chemicals and the impact they have on the environment. Our health and the health of our rivers are of great importance, so we’re honoured to receive this recognition of our work at the Institute for the Environment.”

As a result of these discoveries, the research also provided stimulus for global research into these issue, including human health research linking chemical exposure with declining sperm counts, increased incidence of male genital abnormalities, and testicular, breast and prostate cancer.

The Institute’s work was selected for the prize in a special ‘Diamond Jubilee’ round as a leading example of excellence not just in research, but also in its global impact.

In addition, the Institute has also contributed to the development of a new branch of toxicology, known as ‘endocrine disruption’ and have been actively involved in finding ways to assess and manage the risks posed by several endocrine disrupting chemicals, including those found in plastics , detergents and contraceptive pill hormones.

These findings have resulted in the development of new waste water treatment processes by water and chemical companies, as well as restrictions and bans on the production of certain chemicals by government.

Carys Matthews

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