What Are the Environmental Impacts of Hormonal Birth Control?

What Are the Environmental Impacts of Hormonal Birth Control?

By |2020-04-18T18:14:15-04:00August 21st, 2018|Categories: Contraception|Tags: , , , |

Have you ever stopped for gas and, as you were pumping, watched a giant 18-wheel fuel tanker rumble up to refill the gas station’s tanks?  These trucks are enormous, one-fourth as long as a football field, and each carries enough gasoline to fill a good-sized backyard swimming pool.

Every year, women in the United States ingest enough powerful hormones in abortifacient methods of birth control to fill one of these tanker trucks―3,375 gallons worth.[1]  Now picture a row of semi tanker trucks parked bumper to bumper and stretching three quarters of a mile.  If they were all filled to the brim, they would represent the amount of powerful birth control hormones women have ingested since 1960 in the United States alone.

pill with glass of water

Environmental Effects of Birth Control

The serious physical side effects inflicted upon women by the Pill, the patch, injectables, implants, and hormone-loaded IUDs are often noted.  But the effects of birth control extend far beyond the boundaries of women’s bodies.

Environmentalists tell us that our ecosystem depends upon an extremely delicate balance of a large number of factors, and that even the most apparently insignificant activities of man are enough to have major impacts upon it.  Yet they are dead silent on the ecological effects of some of the most powerful chemicals on earth.

In 2002, the United Kingdom’s Environmental Agency stated, “Estrogenic steroids―natural and synthetic hormones in sewage effluent―have been shown to be more potent than previously thought, with the synthetic steroid 17a ethinyl estradiol showing effects in fish at concentrations below 1 nanogram per liter.”[2]

In other words, a single drop of one of these steroids pollutes 220,000 gallons of water severely enough to cause significant health problems in fish.[3]  This is equivalent to three drops in a standard Olympic-sized swimming pool of 660,000 gallons or 88,000 cubic feet of water.  A single thimbleful would have major impacts on fish living in a lake 300 yards in diameter.

This is because excreted birth control pill hormones are a pollutant, just like DDT or PCBs.  Gord Miller, Ontario’s environmental commissioner, said, “If you were designing the perfect pollutant, it would probably look like a pill.”[4]

Estrogens which are excreted into the environment are classed as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) because they interfere with the endocrine systems of both humans and animals.  Other EDCs, such as those that find their way into the environment from vehicle exhaust, paints, plastics and adhesives, can be filtered out in waste water treatment plants, but estrogen-based EDCs cannot, and thus pose a greater threat.[5]

The top environmental agencies in the United States, Canada and England have all found that exposure to unmetabolized birth control hormones has caused feminization of male fish, delayed reproduction in female fish, and damaged the kidneys and livers of fish of both sexes.[4]  Studies have found that female fish outnumber male fish in streams by a ratio of ten to one in areas where there is a high incidence of birth control pill usage.  Biologist John Wooding said about this finding, “It’s the first thing that I’ve seen as a scientist that really scared me.”[6]

effects of birth control: fish in shallow water get estrogens in their systems

One study in New Brunswick by the Canadian Rivers Institute found that entire species of fish were exterminated in a large lake because all of the male fish had become feminized.  Study leader Dr. Karen Kidd said, “What we demonstrated is that estrogen can wipe out entire populations of small fish―a key food source for larger fish whose survival could in turn be threatened over the longer term.”[7]

These effects of birth control are not limited to fish―they happen to large mammals as well.  A study by the University of Aberdeen found that sheep that grazed on land fertilized with sewage sludge had a high rate of abnormalities in the testes, ovaries, uteri, brains, and thyroid and adrenal glands.  These problems were attributed to the high levels of artificial hormones found in birth control pills that cannot be removed by waste water treatment processes.[5]

Why Don’t We Hear of The Effects of Birth Control?

These environmental effects of birth control have been suspected for more than two decades, yet environmentalists are completely silent on this issue.

If there is the slightest theoretical chance bird eggs might be damaged or thinned by pesticides, environmentalists’ outcry is immediate and forceful (recall the outcry over DDT).  But let the top environmental agencies from several nations definitively document the link between birth control pills and ecological damage, and all we hear from liberal groups is…silence.

mouth taped shut

 

This is because the Left holds “reproductive rights” above all other considerations―the right to life, free speech, and even our environment.  As Betty Ball of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center said, asking people to stop polluting water with hormones “gets into the bedroom.”  She said, “I’m not going there.  This involves people’s personal lives, childbearing issues, sex lives and personal choices.”[6]

And Curt Cunningham, water quality issues chairman for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Sierra Club International, said that people “would not take kindly” to the suggestion of banning or restricting hormonal contraceptives.  He added, “For many people it’s an economic necessity.  It’s also a personal freedom issue.”[8]

In other words, left-wing activists consider their birth control pills, morning-after pills and abortion pills to be so important that even the environment must take second place to “sexual freedom.”  Such is the self-centered and hypocritical nature of the Culture of Death.

The attempts by pro-lifers like Jill Stanek to sound an environmental alarm have been met with silence, denial, and accusations of hypocrisy.  The Left employs its usual tactic of suppressing the point so vigorously that anyone who brings it up will be so ruthlessly stigmatized that people will learn that it is unacceptable to bring up the issue in polite [liberal] company.  Another such topic we must studiously avoid, it seems, is the spectacle of top global warming alarmists zipping all over the world in their private jets.

We also dare not mention the Birkenstock-wearing, fair-source, granola-munching, strictly vegan activists who protest genetically modified foods and hormonal beef additives―and then, at the same time every day, pop a powerful steroid pill.

We Drink Hormone-Polluted Water

Although birth control hormones in the water are not as dangerous to human beings as they are to fish, we must note again that sewage and water treatment filtration cannot remove them from the water we drink.[4]

water ripples

Studies in the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada have shown that breast development in young girls has rapidly accelerated since the 1960s, probably due to the estrogens in drinking water.  Now young girls are developing breasts as early as six or seven years of age, and spokesmen for the medical societies are, for the most part, silent.  Marcia Herman-Giddens, adjunct professor at the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina, said, “My fear is that medical groups could take the data and say ‘This is normal.  We don’t have to worry about it.’  My feeling is that it is not normal.  It’s a response to an abnormal environment.”[7]

Dr. Michelle Bellingham of the University of Glasgow is among the growing number of scientists who believe that male fertility is declining because of the estrogens in our water supplies, leading to an increased use of IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies.[5]

Another study by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Environmental Oncology found that chemicals extracted from randomly sampled fish in the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers caused growth of estrogen-sensitive breast cancer cells cultured in a laboratory, eleven of which “produced very aggressive cancer growth.”[8]

One British study found that the incidence of prostate cancer in men is highest in areas where the use of oral contraceptives is the greatest.[9]  Several such studies are widely varied in their geographical locations and objectives and, as a whole, are not yet conclusive, but their results should concern conscientious scientists and sociologists.

The University of Aberdeen scientists who performed the sheep study darkly warned:

If we do nothing, endocrine disruptors may not only impact human health but all the ecosystems including those on which we depend―if we compromise soil productivity and sustainability of our agricultural systems or cause imbalance in marine and freshwater ecosystems through damage to populations of top predators, ultimately, we threaten our own survival.[5]

Final Thoughts

Virtually every environmentalist group and celebrity is caught up in the cause du jour of global warming.  It would be ironic indeed if the end of the human race came about because of the widespread use and effects of birth control pills.

“Fish are really a sentinel, just like canaries in the coal mine 100 years ago,” says Conrad Volz, co-director of exposure assessment at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute’s Center for Environmental Ecology.  “We need to pay attention to chemicals that are estrogenic in nature, because they find their way back into the water we all use.”[10]

Liberals push for all kinds of compensation for damage to the environment, the best-known being carbon offsets.  Perhaps if a heavy surcharge on the use of birth control pills were levied, people would begin to wake up.

Don’t hold your breath.

 

Endnotes

[1] ProQuest LLC.  The National Data Book:  Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2015 [3rd Edition].  Bethesda, Maryland, 2014.  Table 108, “Current Contraceptive Use by Women by Age, Race, and Hispanic Origin:  2006 to 2010.”

According to this source, 10,560,000 women in the United States use the birth control pill.  If we assume that the most popular birth control pill in the United States (Yaz) has the average amount of hormones (24 tablets of 3 milligrams of drospirenone and 0.02 mg ethinyl estradiol per month), this means that, for 13 cycles a year, a total of 942 milligrams of hormones is ingested by each woman annually, or a total of 9,950 kilograms of hormones annually for all women.  The implant Nexplanon contains 68 milligrams of etonogestrel.  556,000 women use the implant in the United States, and it is good for three years.  This means that these women have an average of 13 kilograms of hormones implanted each year.  Depo-Provera is used by 1,420,000 women in the United States.  Each shot contains 400 milligrams of medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA) and is good for three months.  This means that women receive a total of 2,270 kilograms of hormones by DMPA each year.  The abortifacient Nuva Ring is used by 803,000 American women, and it releases 0.12 milligrams of etonogestrel each day.  This accounts for 35 kilograms of hormones annually.  About 2,161,000 women use the intrauterine device (IUD) in the United States.  If half of these women use the hormonal Mirena and Skyla in equal numbers, they will absorb an average of 7.5 grams of the hormone levenorgestrel annually, for a total of 8 kilograms annually.  Thus, the total amount of hormones absorbed annually by American women on these birth control methods would be 12,176 kilograms or 13.5 short tons.

[2] “Contraceptive Pill Confirmed as Pollutant, Says UK Environment Agency.”  LifeSite Daily News, April 11, 2002.

[3] “Pill-Popping Society Fouling Our Water, Official Says.”  CBC News, March 27, 2006; E. Vulliet, C. Cren-Olive and M.F. Grenier-Loustalot.  “Occurrence of Pharmaceuticals and Hormones in Drinking Water Treated from Surface Waters.”  Environmental Chemistry Letters, September 2011, pages 103 to 114.

There are about 15,040 drops of water in a gallon.  There are 660,000 gallons of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.  The total amount of 17a ethinyl estradiol in a woman is about 300 parts per trillion of body weight [telephone discussion with Dr. Joel Brind on March 25, 2015].

[4] “Pill-Popping Society Fouling Our Water, Official Says.”  CBC News, March 27, 2006.

[5] Thaddeus Baklinski.  “Scientists:  Harmful Hormones from Birth Control Pill Can’t be Filtered out in Sewage Treatment.”  LifeSite Daily News, September 12, 2012.

[6] “Birth-Control Pills Poison Everyone?:  Environmentalists Silent on Threat from Water Tainted with Estrogen.”  WorldNetDaily, July 12, 2007.

[7] Hilary White.  “Study Confirms Estrogen in Water from the Pill Devastating to Fish Populations.”  LifeSite Daily News, February 18, 2008.

[8] Hilary White.  “Hormonal Contraceptives Pollute Drinking Water―Environmentalists Turn a Blind Eye.”  LifeSite Daily News, July 11, 2007.

[9] D. Margel and N.E. Fleshner.  “Oral Contraceptive Use is Associated with Prostate Cancer:  An Ecological Study.”  British Medical Journal, November 2011.

[10] David Biello.  “Bringing Cancer to the Dinner Table: Breast Cancer Cells Grow Under Influence of Fish Flesh.”  Scientific American, April 17, 2007.

 

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About the Author:

Brian Clowes, PhD
Dr. Brian Clowes has been HLI’s director of research since 1995 and is one of the most accomplished and respected intellectuals in the international pro-life movement. Best known as author of the most exhaustive pro-life informational resource volume The Facts of Life, and for his Pro-Life Basic Training Course, Brian is the author of nine books and over 500 scholarly and popular articles, and has traveled to 70 countries on six continents as a pro-life speaker, educator and trainer.

9 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Erika November 12, 2019 at 1:39 PM - Reply

    How do we protect ourselves from drinking this? I’ve heard that berkey filters remove these, but want to learn as much information as I can about this.

  2. Avatar
    Mark January 2, 2020 at 1:07 PM - Reply

    All the more reason to say grace before and after meals (and add w/ the sign of the Cross on the food, “If the devil is present, may he be cast out, and if The Lord is present, may He stay.”)

  3. Avatar
    Gerard Pinkas January 2, 2020 at 4:28 PM - Reply

    Statistically, there are enough hormone pollutants to pollute 26,787,200,000,000 gallons of water each year. That comes to 27 million water tanks which hold 1 million gallons of water each.
    The article mentioned accelerated breast development but failed to mention that this development is abnormal, producing dense breast material and making the breasts prone to cysts and so forth. These pollutants no doubt also play a large role in the high incidence of breast cancer including metastasis and possibly prostate cancer since among close relatives, these cancers are the most highly correlated of all..
    Another point missed is the accelerating incidence of tendency toward homosexuality over the years. If these hormones are trans-sexualizing certain fish species. then what are they doing to the human fetus in the womb of the mother? It is well known that masculinization of the fetus occurs in the womb associated with a biologically timed surge in estrogen. In some species such as rats, all fetuses start out morphologically and psychologically as females. The specifically timed estrogen surge in the genetic males causes them to become psychologically and morphologically male. Artificially blocking this surge produces genetically male rats that look and act like females. If the surge is artificially induced in female rat, they become morphologically and psychologically male rats. It does not take too much imagination to see what this is doing in the womb of the human female to both male and female human beings, and some of these effects are paradoxical and can only be understood with a deeper understanding of the process and what effects partial to complete blocking or activation of the process. In human beings, the morphological characters are specific to male and female fetuses, but the psychological is programmed intrauterine.
    If one wishes to delve into the conspiracy theory, one has present in this scenario scientifically verifiable facts that applied to the framework of the fictitious novel by J. Walker Percy: “The Thanatos Syndrome” to see that the mad hounds of birth control could easily poison large segments of society with these noxious toxic chemicals. This is not some weird alien movie, but reality sitting on our doorstep. Why worry about Nuclear and biological warfare. We have birth control that can be produced in large enough quantities to poison the entire human race. There is no control population in this scenario because it effects ALL of us. I do not think Fr. Paul Marx lived long enough to see this scenario although his brilliant insights on birth control are certainly commendable.

    • Avatar
      HLI Staff February 6, 2020 at 9:27 AM - Reply

      Thank you for your valuable comments, Gerard. Good points all!

  4. Avatar
    Rhonda Merrick January 3, 2020 at 3:09 PM - Reply

    There are also thousands of women who take smaller doses of birth control hormones for medical reasons, not for contraceptive or abortifacient use. How much of an impact does that have on the water supply? These are women who would be physically ill one day out of every month. Perhaps there are better treatments for them, but the medical care system doesn’t put that forward, yet. These could easily be pro-life, environmentally considerate women. This article also does not address the possibility of finding new ways to filter waste water. Why not?

    • Avatar
      HLI Staff February 6, 2020 at 9:37 AM - Reply

      Rhoda, thank you for your questions. I can only say that the impact on the water supply would be proportional to the amount of hormones taken, and since nobody knows how many women take birth control pills for medical reasons, we can’t know. Plus, if they take a smaller dose, maybe it is all absorbed. You might contact your local water supply facility to inquire about filtering waste water. And, while we are not experts on water filtration, we would suggest the following link for more information on reverse osmosis filters: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/birth-control-in-water-supply/.

  5. Avatar
    Rhonda Merrick January 3, 2020 at 3:23 PM - Reply

    Also, many of the sources cited are secondary, not primary, from websites known for their inflammatory tone. Why not list the original sources? This is not the most helpful way to present pro-life talking points. Was the purpose to provide thought-provoking tools for people working to bring an end to abortion? Or just to incite hostility against the Left? They seem to be doing a good job of rolling out reasons to be disgusted at them without any help.

    • Avatar
      HLI Staff February 6, 2020 at 10:02 AM - Reply

      I appreciate your feedback and questions, Rhonda. I do go for primary sources whenever possible, but not always because it is not always necessary to do so. Perhaps for a scientific article, but not this kind of “pro-life talking points” article. While we could debate whether the secondary sources cited here are inflammatory, it doesn’t make the information presented incorrect.

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