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April 23, 2015 ( – A new study confirms what numerous past studies have already shown: Birth control pills are reducing the fish population.

A new laboratory study of the effects on fish of environmental exposure to the synthetic hormone found in contraceptive pills reiterates numerous previous studies from around the world that found evidence of fertility reduction, sex reversal, and even entire populations of fish dying off.

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Missouri exposed a small species of aquarium fish, the Japanese medaka, to 17a-ethinylestradiol (EE2), a major ingredient in oral contraceptives for women.

The scientists stated that up to 68 percent of the synthetic estrogen in a birth control pill is excreted in the urine and feces of the woman using it, and that a substantial amount of EE2 has been found in aquatic environments downstream of wastewater treatment plants, because sewage treatment cannot remove the toxic chemical.

The researchers found that the offspring of the fish exposed to the chemical, known to be an endocrine disruptor, had a reduced level of fertility.

The second and third generations of the fish had as much as a 30 percent decrease in their reproductive abilities.

“This study shows that even though endocrine disruptors may not affect the life of the exposed fish, it may negatively affect future generations.,” said lead researcher Ramji Bhandari in a USGS press release. “If those trends continued, the potential for declines in overall population numbers might be expected in future generations.”

“These adverse outcomes, if shown in natural populations, could have negative impacts on fish inhabiting contaminated aquatic environments,” Bhandari said.

The ever-increasing collection of studies reporting harmful effects of these synthetic hormones on aquatic animals, particularly with regard to their reproduction, have also revealed serious effects on land animals and human beings.

Scientists at the University of Aberdeen found a high incidence of abnormalities related to ingestion of female hormones in sheep maintained on pastures fertilized with sewage sludge (sterilized waste derived from human sewage processing plants).

Their study confirmed that the synthetic hormones found in contraceptive pills pass right through sewage treatment plants and find their way into the food chain.

“One solution to the problems that these chemicals pose,” University of Aberdeen’s Professor Paul Fowler and Dr. Stewart Rhind suggested, “might be to simply stop using them.”

Research at Brunel University and the University of Exeter linked synthetic female hormones in drinking water and rising male fertility problems.

Lead author on the research paper, Dr. Susan Jobling at Brunel University’s Institute for the Environment, said of her study’s findings: “We have been working intensively in this field for over 10 years. The new research findings illustrate the complexities in unraveling chemical causation of adverse health effects in wildlife populations and reopen the possibility of a human–wildlife connection in which effects seen in wild fish and in humans are caused by similar combinations of chemicals.”

Writing in Forbes magazine in 2012, British economist Tim Worstall suggested that the government should tax birth control pills to pay for the costs of upgrading and operating sewage treatment facilities to remove the polluting hormones.

Using the “standard logic that the polluter should pay,” Worstall said that just as “BP has to pay to clean up the waters of the Gulf after Macondo…women who take the contraceptive pill should pay £1,000 ($1,500 U.S.) a year more in tax. It is women taking the contraceptive pill who are causing this pollution…This really is pollution and yes, we do have this general assumption that the polluter should pay for having polluted.”

Worstall posited that, “We cannot charge BP for killing fishies through pollution if we don’t also charge others who kill fishies through pollution, can we?”

“The pill pollutes; thus, those who use the pill should pay the costs of their pollution,” Worstall concluded.

The full text of the U.S. Geological Survey and University of Missouri study is available online here.


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