Fish and the Pill

All rivers flow to the sea… Chemicals from birth control pills are leaving women via their pee and winding their way to water treatment facilities, which are adept at capturing metals, bacteria, and sediment, but not so good at capturing hormones. Water treatment technology hasn’t advanced to the point of having the capacity to filter out prescription drug residue like antibiotics and estrogen. Slowly, what is coming to light is that some drugs are messing with the fertility and gender development of aquatic species. Other studies are showing that these substances are getting into drinking water.

When EPA-funded scientists at the University of Colorado studied fish in a pristine mountain stream known as Boulder Creek two years ago, they were shocked. Randomly netting 123 trout and other fish downstream from the city’s sewer plant, they found that 101 were female, 12 were male and 10 were strange “intersex“ fish with male and female features…

They studied the fish and decided the main culprits were estrogens and other steroid hormones from birth-control pills and patches, excreted in urine into the city’s sewage system and then into the creek…

Woodling, University of Colorado physiology professor David Norris, and their EPA-study team were among the first scientists in the country to learn that a slurry of hormones, antibiotics, caffeine and steroids is coursing down the nation’s waterways, threatening fish and contaminating drinking water.

Stories about this phenomenon are popping up here and there as more studies are published, but the one I read in the National Catholic Register has an interesting angle (as you would imagine).


The irony the article wishes to call out is that environmentalists are willing to go to great lengths to fight against genetically modified organisms, global warming, toxic pesticides, etc. But enviros are curiously unconcerned about the issue of hormones polluting waterways, because they’re afraid to tell women to stop using birth control pills. Essentially, these are two competing lefty causes: the environment and birth control.

I must say I agree: this is an uncomfortable dilemma for progressives that forces difficult choices. It’s not a difficult choice for the Catholic Church, which already takes a dim view of birth control methods other than “natural family planning.” The deformation of fish is simply corroborating what they already believe about the pill–it’s against God’s plan. (I wonder if they feel the same way about antibiotics…) But for me, I find it difficult to weigh the importance of family planning options against the importance of clean water.

Rebecca Goldburg, a New Jersey biologist working with Environmental Defense, told the North Jersey News: “I’m not sure I want even low levels of birth control pills in my daughter’s drinking water.“

Ball said she’s alarmed by the sex-altered fish in Boulder Creek, and worries about the ramifications for humans.

“Unfortunately, it is emerging as a major issue in creeks and waterways all over the earth, and we’re seeing more and more anomalies, not just with fish but with frogs and other aquatic life. I think it’s a precursor to what will happen to humans who drink contaminated water,“ Ball said.

Ball said she’s shocked that citizens of Boulder haven’t organized and taken to the streets, as many Colorado environmentalists did upon learning that farmers and agri-businesses were genetically altering crops. She said the major source of contamination that’s mutating Boulder Creek fish – birth control – makes it a political hot potato.

To avoid genetically modified crops, Ball said, one needed only to buy organic, genetically modified organism-free products at health food stores. Asking residents to stop polluting water with hormones, however, “gets into the bedroom.“

“I’m not going there,“ Ball said. “This involves people’s personal lives, child bearing issues, sex lives and personal choices. Maybe people are saying, ‘O my God, what do we do about this?’“

“Apathy is the fear of sticking your toe in, for fear it will change your life,“ she said. “Sometimes positive change does require a change in lifestyle.“

Maybe they need to start marketing condoms to environmentalists!

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