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Environmental Studies

Endocrine Disrupters and the Pill

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

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Drugs in the Environment

    To be affected by endocrine disrupters(EDs) you do not have to have ingested them. As Colborn found, EDs were rampant in the environment. Some are there because of industrial chemical production, sometimes they are leftovers that simply runoff with other pollution into waterways. Others are pesticides, such as DDT, which can enter into groundwater and watersheds affecting the quality of the water. Water is one of the most vulnerable of our resources, and one of the places EDs tend to thrive. Think of Colborn's principals of biomagnification, the early steps are usually in plankton and algae which are affected by the EDs presence in the water.
    One of the newly discovered ways that EDs enter the environment is from people. The large usage of prescription and non-prescription medicines means that as these naturally pass through humans' bodies, medicines show up in the wastewater and are not filtered out before they reach waterways. It is important to note that not every medication is an ED, but some that are taken by large groups of people such as the birth control pill and hormone replacement therapy. Normal means of waste extraction simply does not account for this problem and small amounts of heart medication and birth control pills (just to name a few) are being found in drinking water.  Adding to this pollution is the problem that not only are Americans obsessed with medicating, but the accepted method for disposal of medication is to flush it down the toilet. Environmentalists recommend that you return unused medicines to pharmacies, but most hospitals, doctor's offices, and pharmacies dispose of their excess medicine by sending it down the drain. There are high amounts of drugs entering the water supply meaning that medicines are entering our bodies that we do not intend to be there. Some of these could be EDs and some are known EDs, yet the current wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to deal with this problem. A US geological survey found trace amounts (remember even small levels can be harmful) of pharmaceuticals in 139 US lakes and rivers in 2002.

Information on this page from: Sharon Batt's article "Pouring Drugs Down the Drain" in the Spring 2005 issue of Herizons
Melissa Knopper's article "Drugging Our Water: We Flush it, then We Drink It" in the Jan/Feb issue of Green Living: E magazine
M. Roth's article "Pharmaceuticals in the Environment"

Last updated:  5/2/2006


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