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Latest American Chemical Society Podcast: Don’t Blame ‘The Pill’ For Estrogen In Drinking Water

February 22, 2011

The latest episode in the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) award-winning podcast series, “Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions,” focuses on a widespread public misconception about the estrogen hormones detected in minute amounts in some drinking water supplies.

It describes results of a new analysis concluding that, contrary to popular belief, birth control pills account for less than 1 percent of the estrogens found in the drinking water supplies in the United States. Their report appears in ACS’ biweekly journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Amber Wise, Kacie O’Brien and Tracey Woodruff note ongoing concern about possible links between chronic exposure to estrogens in the water supply and fertility problems and other adverse human health effects. Almost 12 million women of reproductive age in the United States take the pill, which contains estrogen, and their urine contains traces of the female sex hormone. Hence, the belief that oral contraceptives are the major source of estrogen in lakes, rivers and streams, the researchers say.

“Our analysis found that the main estrogen in oral contraceptives has a lower predicted concentration in U.S. drinking water than natural estrogens from animal waste, which can be used untreated as a farm fertilizer and from synthetic estrogens, such as industrial sources,” Woodruff says in the podcast. “In addition, everyone excretes hormones in their urine, not just women taking the pill. The contribution of oral contraceptives is still relatively small when accounting for its potency.”

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