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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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The Pill as an ED

    One endocrine disrupter(EDs), which is being found in American waterways, is synthetic estrogen. Articles as early as 2002, according to the Environmental Health News archives, begin showing that synthetic estrogens are showing up in cleaned wastewater. Estrogens are not used in pesticides, and usually one must ingest a synthetic estrogen to feel its effects. For example when women took DES, as fully explored in the Our Stolen Future section, the effects were to themselves and their unborn children. So, how is synthetic estrogen getting into the water supply? Think of the number of women taking birth control pills or other forms of hormone controlling contraception, estimated in 2000 at roughly 5.6 million in America alone (Johns Hopkins). Think about it 5.6 million women take synthetic estrogen everyday, and everyday that synthetic estrogen is used by the body and then excreted. Wastewater plants do not help the situation; instead they tend to make it worse.
    It is scientifically proven that when a woman takes the pill it passes through her body through her kidneys where an extra sugar is added, rendering the active ingredients within the pill inactive. In wastewater treatment plants bacteria are used as one of the many steps to help decontaminate the water. When these bacteria come in contact with the inactive remnants of the pill and its extra sugar, the bacteria eat away at this extra sugar, making the pill's ingredients active again. Synthetic estrogen is being cycled through women's bodies being excreted into wastewater, where it once again becomes active. Current wastewater methods do not account for the problem of pharmaceuticals in the water. These medications are not filtered out, and therefore can reappear in aquatic habitats and even drinking water. The scale of these ramifications is currently not known. The reason I'm focusing on the birth control pill is because of its unique place as an endocrine disrupter. Like other disrupters, which seem to be used simply because they are more cost-effective, the pill provides a service to women that most are not willingly going to give up. This is therefore a more complicated version of the story of endocrine disrupters and will need more technical rather than policy solutions. To further explore these problems, we will explore the history and development of the pill, examine case studies of aquatic habitats and possible human connections, and finally look for solution to the problem not only of synthetic estrogens but EDs as a whole.

For Further reading on how a woman's cycle works on and off the pill, visit this website

Last updated:  5/2/2006


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