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Pollution May Be Shrinking Otters’ Penises – and It May Be Affecting Humans Too

Update Date: Feb 25, 2013 12:44 PM EST
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Many conservation efforts have gone toward keeping otters alive. To that end, in the United Kingdom, they have been very successful, as the otter population has increased in recent years. However, a recent report has found that the battle against pollution has still not be won. The study found that pollution may be causing otters' penises to shrink, as well as fertility problems, and the same contaminants may be affecting human men as well.

According to the Telegraph, the study was conducted by researchers from the Cardiff University Otter Project and the Chemicals, Health and Environment Monitoring Trust (CHEM). They studied 755 otters who were found dead between the years of 1992 and 2009.

According to BBC, the study found that the weight of the penis bones in otters - the bacculum - had decreased over time. They also found a rise in the number of undescended testicles and cysts in the tubes that carry sperm.

The Daily Mail reports that the same chemicals responsible for these problems in otters may cause similar symptoms in human men. The website reports that growing numbers of boys have been born with undescended testicles, malformation of the sex organs and fertility problems.

However, this time researchers are not sure what is to blame for these problems. In the 1970s, in the face of a declining otter population, scientists targeted persistent organic pollutants (POPs). When they were banned, the otter population increased once again.

Researchers are considering the role that endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) may play in these problems. EDCs are commonly used chemicals found in cars, construction materials and cosmetics. There was no association with POPs and penis size.

"With many of these contaminants, there can be all sorts of different sources," Dr. Elizabeth Chadwick, project manager at the Cardiff University Otter Project, said to the BBC, "so it might be things like drugs that we're taking and they flush through our sewerage systems and end up in the rivers."

The report adds to the level of concern that many scientists have about how many males in various species are becoming feminized.  For example, when POPs were used, previous studies found that some male fish were creating eggs and the egg-yolk protein in their testes.

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