There has been speculation in the past few years about whether the oral contraceptive pills contribute to the estrogen problem in water that causes male fish to become feminized. Stephen Colbert even did a pretty funny bit on this back in 2009, blaming this problem on “ladypee”.
Sounds scary! I don’t want my male fish to be growing eggs. Plus, if it’s doing this to fish on a big scale, what’s it doing to humans on a small scale?
It turns out, estrogen in the water is dangerous and needs to be addressed. However, if you dive a little deeper into the science, the birth control pill is likely not a big culprit of the estrogen problem in our water. A study from the University of California and the Asian University for Women showed that most of the estrogen in the water is not EE2, the type of estrogen used in oral contraceptives. An NIH study also found the risk of EE2 in drinking water to be negligible for vulnerable human populations. Plus, when it comes to synthetic estrogens, many are given to livestock, not folks looking to plan their families.
The antibiotics used in the meat we eat (which in turn also finds its way into our water supply) also mimic estrogen, increasing cancer risk. Beyond what is consumed by mammals, we should also be concerned with agents that mimic estrogen like Bisphenol A (which has been shown to not only increase one’s risk of breast cancer but also make breast cancer therapies less effective).
But instead of talking about reducing the use of toxic plastics or the veterinary estrogens used on livestock to help reduce the estrogen in the water, we are only really talking about the pill. But why?
Kimberly Inez McGuire of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health wrote in a 2010 article, “Blaming birth control for the presence of estrogen in water is a bit like blaming the mess in the kitchen on your housemate who’s never home. Sure, she may leave a plate on the counter once in a while when she’s in town—but your real problem is your other roommate, the one who has parties every weekend and pizza boxes and beer cans stacked to the ceiling. Blaming birth control is a distraction from the egregious and unchecked use of synthetic estrogens by chemical companies and factory farms. It’s also a ploy to drive a wedge between environmental and reproductive health advocates.”
I couldn’t agree more. Let’s hold these factory farms and chemical companies responsible and leave the pill out of this.