A steroid given to beef cattle to increase growth and appetite has been found to live on in our waterways, according to a new study.

Previously, this steroid, called trenbolone acetate (TBA) (deemed the “vampire steroid” by researchers), was thought to quickly breakdown in water with little to no impact on animals and ecological surroundings.


This new study published in the journal, Science now debunks the above claim as TBA has been discovered to regenerate in waterways and remain there in almost its full form.

“We’re finding a chemical that is broadly utilized, to behave in a way that is different from all our existing regulatory and risk-assessment paradigms,” study corresponding author David Cwiertny, an assistant professor in engineering at the University of Iowa, said in a university news release (via HealthDay News).

So why has TBA been dubbed the “vampire steroid”? Apparently, it breaks down in sunlight in a process called phototransformation yet it never fully disappears. Once the sun sets and Ph levels are right in water bodies, the drug regenerates up to 70 percent of its initial mass, according to International Business Times.

TBA was once used by bodybuilders and male athletes to increase muscle mass but is now banned from human use.


Somehow though, the steroid has not been prohibited from use in animals that humans eat. Over 20 million cows have TBA implanted in their ears, reports HealthDay News. Eventually, the drug is excreted by livestock and enters waterways via runoff.

The study’s researchers speculate that this steroid may not be as harmless to aquatic ecosystems as originally thought. TBA may affect fish populations in particular by reducing the number of eggs produced and changing sexes of certain species, reports International Business Times. Yet before firm conclusions can be drawn about the environmental impacts of TBA, researchers stress that additional studies must be conducted.

“Right now, I’m not alarmed, just concerned and interested in defining the real ecological risks associated with the widespread use of potent steroidal pharmaceuticals,” said Ed Kolodziej, co-author of the paper and environmental engineering associate professor at the University of Nevada, Reno via Nature World News.

While there may be no need to create an uproar about TBA in our waterways just yet, we shouldn’t have to wait around for additional studies to show us that pharmaceutical products in our food system are a bad idea for both us and the environment. Other studies have already shown the problems associated with such use. So, Government, Ag Businesses, can we please put a stop to the excessive use of pharmaceutical products in animals destined to be food?


Image source: Ryan Thompson / U.S. Department of Agriculture / Wikipedia Commons