academic environmental studies  
 macalester college
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

Comments & questions to:


    The problem of endocrine disrupters(EDs) in general has a range of solutions. For EDs in pesticides and plastics the reasonable solution seems to be to ban these substances, because of their toxic nature. For the problem of synthetic estrogens, banning does not seem like a viable option. Women are likely not going to be interested in giving up the benefits that the pill gives to them. One step that has been taken, not so much for environmental reasons but for health concerns, is the lowering of the dose of synthetic estrogen in the pill. Most pills now have a much lower dose than the amount originally in the pill. The solution therefore must be in policy, especially in the way that sewage facilities operate. Updating current systems will be expensive, but there are ways to filter EDs from sewage. In Australia, new sewage systems are being put into effect which will reduce the amount of EDs that make it through the process of cleaning sewage.
    The Australian Center for Water and Waste Technology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney explains their current Membrane Hybrid Water Recycling Project as a way to remove EDs from wastewater. As their report notes, "conventional wastewater treatment is not an effective barrier to trace contaminants" (Schäfer and Waite). Australian processes utilized two different ways to remove EDs from the water recycling. By adding certain amounts of activated sludge, powdered activated carbon, and ion microorganisms to the wastewater, they will often bond with active EDs, making them into solids which can be more easily extracted from wastewater. The second way is through series of membranes which will be used in addition to solid waste extraction. In fact, between membrane absorption and solid waste extraction more than 90% of synthetic estrogens were removed from wastewater. This experiment has been done at the institute and has not been implemented in any Australian city, though the research was done in accordance and with funding help from many major cities. This is a solvable problem. The real problem will be funding, as instituting a multi-step filtration system in all wastewater removal plants will be very costly. At this point it is not economically viable in fact. While the Australian report does not specify costs, think of the amount of money it would take to upgrade every wastewater treatment plant in America. The amount of investment would be staggering, but this is currently the only option that has shown conclusive results.

Information on this page from the Australian Center For Water and Waste Technology at the University of New South Wales report  on their new system of ED removal in water treatment

Last updated:  5/2/2006


Macalester College · 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105  USA · 651-696-6000
Comments and questions to