May 01, 2013 05:29PM
Birth Control Meds Foul Global WatersAfter ethinylestradiol (EE2), the active ingredient in most birth control pills, has done its duty in preventing pregnancy, it can begin a second life as a pollutant that harms wildlife, creating “intersex” fish and amphibians, and is difficult and costly to remove from wastewater streams that carry it into natural waterways. EE2 is only one of many synthetic hormones that humans excrete into wastewater.
The European Union wants to upgrade 1,360 wastewater treatment plants to utilize necessary charcoal-filtering technology to tackle EE2 contamination across England and Wales. Meeting proposed limits will require expenditures of $41 billion to $47 billion, according to Richard Owen, a professor at the University of Exeter, in the UK.
In the journal Nature, Owen and Susan Jobling, Ph.D., an ecotoxicologist at London’s Brunel University, write that more public debate on EE2 regulation is needed. “Animals are exquisitely sensitive to it,” observes Jobling.
Owen queries: “Are we willing to pay this cost as a society or would we prefer to live with the environmental impact?”