Estrogen in the water supply

By C.J. Barbre

Candidate for District 1 Supervisor Allen Ishida spoke out at the Aug. 10 Lindsay City Council meeting about estrogen in the water supply.

He referred to a front page story in the Aug. 4 Valley Voice titled "Water Safety Concerns - Estrogen in our Water?" by Carole Firstman. The gist of the article was that studies by the US Environmental Protection Agency and UC Davis show a strong correlation between internal estrogen levels of male fish and the amount of estrogen found in water habitats.

Ishida told the council that this is not news. "They've been fighting it for years in retreated sewer water. It's been getting in the underground water supply and changing the sex of fish," that is deformities within the reproductive systems of fish. He said estrogen in the water could be a problem for all incorporated areas and unincorporated, environmentally sensitive areas like Springville. "It's something to be aware of," he told the council.

In 1942, Ayerst Laboratories introduced its estrogen-based Premarin (from pregnant mares' urine) in the U.S. It has been one of the most profitable drugs in history.

Sixty years later, a five-year study on the synthetic estrogen Prempro (composed of estrogens and progestin) with 16,608 women was stopped when it became clear that the hormones increased the risk of invasive breast cancer and cardiovascular disease at a rate that clearly outweighed any benefits. There were fewer cases of hip fractures and colon cancer - benefits not considered worth the risk.

In the long run it doesn't pay to fool with Mother Nature. In the 1990s it was found that environmental exposure (in the water supply) of humans and wildlife to estrogens created endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs), which interfered with the synthesis, secretion, binding and action of natural hormones in the body, affecting reproduction, development and behavior in humans and other organisms.

Fish have been studied extensively by researchers as their characteristics change due to EDC exposure, especially estrogens. When waters become contaminated with estrogens, male or juvenile fish attain high levels of this protein, thus making them useful biomarkers for contamination in the water supply.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) conducted studies recently of 139 rivers and streams in the USA, finding estrogen-like contaminants in the nation's water supply. Oftentimes this water supply is being recycled, making its way from water treatment plants of one town to another's municipal water drinking system. Wastewater/ sewage treatment plants are unable to keep many potentially harmful compounds out of the drinking water.

The truth is that most menopause-age women take estrogen in hopes of staying younger looking or staving off old age - i.e. vanity. On the plus side, estrogens help to delay the loss of skin collagen and are therefore beneficial to the skin. Estrogen is the only effective treatment for vasomotor instability (hot flashes) associated with menopause. It also is used to treat vaginal atrophy.

On the minus side, in addition to breast cancer and cardiovascular disease, estrogens have been reported to increase the chance of developing gall-bladder disease. Animal studies have shown that prolonged continuous administration of estrogen substances can increase the frequency of cancer (breast, cervix, vagina, kidney, and liver) in these animals. Some other side effects are bleeding gums, jaundice or yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes, rash, loss of scalp hair, and development of new hairy areas, blood-clot formation, loss of coordination, chest pains, leg pains, difficulty breathing, slurred speech, and vision changes. Men who receive large estrogen doses as part of the treatment for prostate cancer are at a greater risk for heart attack, phlebitis, and blood clots in the lungs. (Source:

That was just a partial list of negative side effects which was followed by a long list of negative drug interactions. At what cost are women willing to lessen hot flashes and slow down wrinkles.

Environmental estrogens could easily be reduced by using alternative forms of contraception rather than birth control pills, although, according to information printed in 2000 in "Population Reports" from The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, more than 100 million women worldwide use the pill or oral contraceptives. In the US 80 percent of all women born since 1945 have used the pill.

According to the Valley Voice article, more than eight million women in the United States take estrogen replacement drugs to treat the symptoms of menopause and osteoporosis. The 2000 census estimates that 41.8 million women are over age 50, the average of spontaneous menopause. Naturally women want to look their best, and drug companies want to make money. Gillian Sanson, a women's health advocate and educator has written a book, "The Myth of Osteoporosis," which was reviewed by Barbara Seaman, author of "The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women: Exploding the Estrogen Myth."

"At last a carefully-researched, comprehensive and easy-to-read account of the world-wide marketing of osteoporosis as a killer disease in order to manufacture patients for the sale of drugs. Gillian Sanson's book is essential reading for all women who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, and for anyone wanting information about bone health and the safety of current treatments," she wrote. Seaman's first book was "The Doctors' Case Against the Pill," which led to Congressional hearings in 1970. The U.S. Senate barred women harmed by the pill from testifying. Protesting women interrupted the hearings, an event known as the Boston Tea Party of the Women's Movement. After the hearings, birth control pills carried warning labels and for the first time the Federal Drug Administration allowed input from patients as part of the drug's regulation.

The idea that women need a pill to treat a naturally occurring change in life is proving to have a negative impact on many levels.

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