New Water Pollution Scare

Are Contraception Pills Polluting Europe's Water?

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted June 6, 2012

Britain’s waterways are so clotted with synthetic hormones from contraceptive pills that some fish populations are collapsing.

As a result, the EU wants substantial reductions in the contraceptive pollution as soon as possible.

As reported in the Guardian UK, the EU has launched a water framework directive that requires a massive overhaul of the sewage network. The program is estimated to cost over $50 billion.

Some dispute the science around the declining fish populations and the synthetic hormone link, but ethinyl estradiol (EE2), which is the active ingredient in contraceptive pills, is absolutely linked with causing an intersex condition in freshwater fish. That deformity is one of the causes of declining fish populations.

While these chemical effects haven’t been tested on other animals and human health, toxicologist Professor Richard Owen of Exeter University stated, “that does not mean we will not find impacts in the future…but do we want to wait until we see effects in humans, as we did with thalidomide and BSE, or do we act before harm is done?”

The problem is that EE2 is a very potent compound. It is specifically designed to have an impact on the body at very low levels whereas if the compound gathers in, say, a water source and is ingested, there’s no telling what it could do. 2.5 million women in the UK take birth control pills, which when excreted, goes into an antiquated sewage system not designed to break down this compound. Research has indicated that at 50 sites surveyed, 80% had elevated levels of EE2 in the water with similar levels found across Europe.

In response to this information, the EU has proposed that levels of EE2 cannot exceed .035ppt. While the measure would be expensive across the continent, the possible effects of not doing anything about this problem could be far more damaging in the long run. The final word on the proposed legislation won’t come until November when the European parliament is scheduled to meet.