The fertility of a generation of men is being put at risk because a hormone found in the Pill is getting into drinking water, scientists fear, boasted the newspapers a decade ago.
The idea is not new, of course, to anyone with a modicum of common sense; scientists too, have common sense… some of them. And thus, the long and very sophisticated report was produced by the UK Environmental Agency that examined the behaviour of fish. Namely, the reaction of fish to the presence of oestrogen in the water. The scientists painted a gloomy picture: the ‘female’ hormone oestrogen that is widely used in pharmacology and makes the main component of certain pregnancy pills, is floating in excessive numbers in rivers… and in our drinking water.
Hormone pollution is causing up to half the male fish in British lowland rivers to change sex, research showed. It didn’t take long to connect the dots and suggest that the hormone could be getting into our drinking water and affecting men’s sperm counts.
A study published by the Environment Agency says entire fish stocks in some stretches of water are irreversibly affected, meaning the fish is en masse becoming ‘gay’, thus diminishing the chances of species for survival and, subsequently, diminishing the odds of a fresh ‘healthy’ fish ending up on our plate.
Scientists believe the synthetic oestrogen can ‘feminise’ fish at levels as low as one part per billion. Let this figure sink in for a bit. One drinking glass contains 8.36 x 1024 molecules of water and just one part of oestrogen in a glass is enough to change fish’s sex irreversibly. Not instantly of course, but think how much water you consume on a daily basis.
Professor Charles Tyler, one of the leaders of the research, told BBC1’s Countryfile: ‘Some of the concentrations where we are seeing effects on fish are below the detection limit in place for testing our drinking water. So we cannot be sure that some of these compounds aren’t getting into our drinking water.’
Water sewage treatment
The water is filtered, treated for bacterial contamination, the unwanted compounds such as hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, dissolved metals are removed as well as pesticides, organic compounds and unpleasant tastes and odours. The water is then treated with ozone to eliminate any remains of pesticides and organic material and disinfected with Chlorine and the Ammonia. Voila, your drinking water is ‘perfectly safe’ to drink. The treatment is not designed to remove the chemical from drinking supplies, although the water industry insists there is no evidence of a risk to health.
And as if that wasn’t convincing enough, the study on roach stocks from ten rivers found nearly half of male fish had eggs in their testes or female reproductive ducts. A tenth was sterile and another quarter had damaged sperm.
Call me doomsayer but I think there are very real reasons to be worried about whether male reproductive health could also be affected. Dr Susan Jobling from the research team takes the same position on the topic.
Although scientists do not yet know for certain whether this is affecting people, -what more evidence do they need?- we do know that most of our drinking water comes from rivers. And we also know that sperm counts among Brits have been dropping at alarming rates.
Of course, other chemicals may also be responsible as we are increasingly discovering that we are surrounded by ‘gender-bending’ substances. Many pesticides and plastics, for example, contain chemicals that disrupt the hormone system. They have also been widely found in food and drink, including in baby milk formula. Add to those all-prevailing parabens that mimic oestrogen’s molecular structure and it looks like our civilisation is in a pretty dire state.
It is also important to remember that the environmental catastrophe that is quietly happening now doesn’t have a reverse button. While we are preoccupied with political affairs and the exchange rate of GBP, the potentially greater problem is being overlooked.
The Environmental Agency in their report of 2004 concluded that the weight of evidence is sufficient to develop risk management approaches for oestrogenically active sewage treatment work effluents. The abovementioned report is more than a decade old. It is available to view and download for the general public. The findings have also been widely reported. But what progress have we made?
Call me doomsayer but I think there are very real reasons to be worried about whether male reproductive health could also be affected. Dr. Susan Jobling from the research team takes the same position on the topic.
More than 2.5 million women take birth control pills in the UK, and although it might pose some health risks, no one expected it to cause an environmental crisis. On the contrary, it promised to avert catastrophe by helping to slow population growth. Indeed it can and does, in more ways than we could imagine.
Ethanol oestradiol – a chemical used in the Pill which is between 50 to 100 times more powerful than natural oestrogens – is responsible for feminising fish.Their EE2 content is excreted and washed into sewage systems and rivers.
A decade later
Today the use of oestrogen has by no means reduced. It is used in medicine for Menopause symptoms and the prevention of postmenopausal osteoporosis. Oestrogen drugs are also prescribed for ovarian failure, breast cancer (in selected women and men), advanced cancer of the prostate, osteoporosis, abnormal bleeding of the uterus, vaginal irritation, female castration, and Tumers syndrome.
The ‘family planning’ drugs are still given out free to girls as young as 12 with no additional information given as to the effects of the drug to the environment. I get that when you are 12 the only thing you might care of is not to get pregnant but as girls are maturing, this information should be made widely available to all users of oestrogen. Yes, some people don’t have a choice but at least we can all be making more conscious decisions.
Whether due to the hormonal pollution in water or elsewhere, the hormone treatment for purposes of sex change is now given to boys as young as 12, while the transgender and homosexuality has hit record high figures seemingly.
Back in 2012, when the European Union decided to put an end to hormones in drinking water in the Water Framework Directive, the priced cost of the clean up was as follows: For a town of about 250,000 people, it was said, it would cost about £6m to install a system that uses granular activated carbon to cut EE2 levels, with a further £600,000 being needed to operate the system each year. To upgrade the 1,400 sewage waterworks in England and Wales would cost a total of more than £30bn.
I wonder what bill does the NHS receive each year for sex changing operations and hormone treatment as well as treatment of various hormonal dysfunctions and whether the cost of some preventing measures might actually save us much more in the long term run.