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Environmental Studies

Endocrine Disrupters and the Pill

Introduction
How EDs Work
Our Stolen Future
Drugs in the Environment
Examples of EDs
Government Testing
Laws
The Pill as an ED
History of the Pill
Case Study: Coastal Waters
Case Study: Fish
Case Study: Men in Italy
Solutions
What you can do!
Further Information


Comments & questions to:
khornbach@macalester.edu

Introduction

Since the 1950's women have had more control over their own bodies, because of the creation of the birth control pill. By simply taking one little pill a day, either made of progesterone, synthetic estrogen, or a combination, women can control their menstrual cycle. Estimates put the number of women taking the pill to be somewhere around 5.6 million women in America alone (Johns Hopkins). Each day women take the pill and it passes through their bodies, entering the large amount of waste in treatment centers throughout the nation. Wastewater treatment plants filter out solid waste and many contaminants, but current systems in America are unable to stop the growing amount of synthetic estrogens that are entering the wastewater. When they are not removed in these processes, they will remain in the water systems, entering waterways and therefore entering drinking water.
    Synthetic estrogens are part of a larger problem of chemicals known as endocrine disrupters. These chemicals enter into the bodies of marine wildlife and humans and can seriously affect the way the endocrine system functions. This system controls metabolism, development, and reproductive functions. This current problem is one that is so multifaceted and complicated that it is difficult to deal with directly. One problem is that research on this subject, as well as policy are being done and made at the same time, making the process of clear solutions difficult. While this would seem like a positive idea, the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) research is moving slowly, and therefore making laws and adhering to already existing ones becomes more complicated. The more complete research being done, that is studies with conclusive results are not being paid attention to by the EPA, which instead is focusing solely on their own research.
    Endocrine disrupters (EDs) are a very broad category encompassing pesticides, plastics, and as mentioned before synthetic estrogen. While clear steps have and can been taken to get rid of EDs in pesticides and plastics, simply banning the substance, removing synthetic estrogen from the world is not a possible answer. The birth control pill is a medical solution to menstrual problems as well as a way for women to control their sexuality, banning the pill is not a solution to the problem that it is negatively effecting the environment. Having women stop taking the pill is not an option as many women rely on it not only for sexual but also for medical purposes. Other technical solutions to dealing with contaminated water are few and not very economically viable, at this point. New technological solutions or policy must be created to solve this problem.
    The controversy of synthetic estrogens will be explored here through looking deeply at endocrine disrupters, how they work, how they were discovered, what chemicals they are, and the Environmental Protection Agency's current laws surrounding them. Then, we will look at the pill, its history, and several case studies of its environmental effects. Finally we will look at possible solutions.

Last updated:  5/2/2006

 


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Comments and questions to khornbach@macalester.edu