What are the Environmental Impacts of Hormonal Birth Control?

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.

The serious physical side effects inflicted upon women by the Pill, the patch, injectables, implants, and hormone-loaded IUDs are often noted.  But their side effects 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 that “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 that “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 has damaged the kidneys and livers of fish of both sexes.[6]  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.”[7]  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 that “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.”[8]

These impacts 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.[9]

These environmental impacts 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, their 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.

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, child bearing issues, sex lives and personal choices.”[10]  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 that “For many people it’s an economic necessity.  It’s also a personal freedom issue.”[11]

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.

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.[12]  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.[13]  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.”[14]

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.[15]

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.”[16] 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.[17]  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 warned darkly that “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.”[18]

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 of the birth control pill.  “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.”[19]

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 [http://www.answers.com/Q/How_many_drops_of_water_are_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] “Pill-Popping Society Fouling Our Water, Official Says.”  CBC News, March 27, 2006.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[19] 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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