On the website of TVP Info, the Polish public television news channel has been published an article entitled “Scientists: leftovers of contraceptive pills go to water and poison the environment”. Due to the very complex nature of this topic our team decided to focus on two key statements from this article.
First of all: “Research shows that even a small amount of ethinylestradiol – a synthetic estrogen used in most oral contraceptives – that ends up in water, has a negative effect on aquatic organisms and the fish exposed to it have fewer offspring” – in referring to research published by Dr. Latonya Jackson from University of Cincinnati
Secondly: “In his book “Troubled Water: What’s Wrong with What We Drink”, published last year, (Seth) Siegel notes that scientists do not yet know if what is harmful to fish can also have a negative impact on people.”
Both statements turned out to be true
Statement number one
In the case of the first statement, we were able to determine its compatibility with the results of the referred research. The source material was an article published by Dr. Latonya Jackson in the scientific journal “Aquatic Toxicology”. Both the journal’s quite high impact factor (3.884) and the number of citation of the scientist (302 according to Research Gate) indicate her reliability as a source.
Thanks to the politeness of the author we also gained access to the source research paper: “Impact of Long-Term Exposure to 17α-Ethinylestradiol in the Live-Bearing Fish Heterandria formosa”
Conclusions contained in there matches those described by polish news portal. Also after comparing the statistical data we did not find any irregularities in the numbers given by TVP Info.
“This study showed that in least killifish continuous EE2 exposure affected growth and sexual development of both males and females, strongly reduced reproduction, and greatly reduced survival in the second generation”
Other research teams confirmed the results published by a group of Cincinnati University scientists. The presence of Ethinylestradiol (EE2) was also detected in river waters near Sao Paulo (Environmental Monitoring and Assessment volume 192, Article number: 21 (2020)) Also scientist from Argentina Universidad has drawn attention to the issue of poor EE2 detection in river waters (“Novel electrochemical paper-based immunocapture assay for the quantitative determination of ethinylestradiol in water samples” ASC Publications)
In Poland there was conducted a similar test to examine the influence of EE2 to water organisms. Dr. Katarzyna Affek and Dr. Monika Załęska-Radziwiłł (Warsaw University of Technology, Faculty of Environmental Engineering, Department of Biology) conducted a series of tests described in publication “Biodegradation of 17α-ethinylestradiol and ecotoxicity studies of its biochemical degradation metabolites” 
The control group included crustaceans showing fluorescence, bioluminescent bacteria and fish. However, the researchers reserve that their results should be treated as preliminary and EE2 was found to degrade during a period of 28 days. In a quite high concentration of EE2 they observed an increase in crustacean mortality and permanent loss of fluorescent ability
Statement number two
The article also refers to the words of Seth Siegel, who is afraid whether what is harmful to fish may also have a bad effect on human health. Seth Siegel is businessman, activist and author of the book “Let there be water” which was noted as a bestseller by New York Times and The Washington Post in 2015. Article is referring to findings contained in his latest book: “Troubled Water: What’s Wrong with What We Drink”. After a closer look at this book and chapter six “Pills in the water” we found out that it matches the statement described in the article.
“While it isn’t clear what the long-term consequences of these chemicals in our drinking water will be, common sense suggests that it would be wise to limit it or, if possible, to prevent it.” ~Seth Siegel “Troubled Water” p.78
Author relays on reports and research of multiple experts like Dr. Luke Iwanowicz – author of publication “Evidence of Estrogenic Endocrine Disruption in Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass Inhabiting Northeast U.S. National Wildlife Refuge Waters: A Reconnaissance Study,” Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 124 (February 2016): 51–58. After studying the effects of estrogen on water organisms Dr. Iwanowicz draws attention to the problem of possible contamination of drinking water by pharmaceuticals.
“What we are beginning to understand,” Iwanowicz says, “is that there may actually be an impact below ‘No Effect.’ … Ultra-low doses of estrogen, and also other drugs designed for a different purpose [that are getting into drinking water], could be causing hormonal disruption with effects on reproductive and sexual health, but from drug levels far lower than earlier imagined.” ~Dr. Luke Iwanowicz (interview with an author)
In the footnotes, we can read the author’s comment, who claims that “The Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996, §1457 (“Estrogenic Substances Screening Program,” 42 U.S.C. §300j-17) provided the EPA with the power to require testing of estrogenic substances. Despite having this authority, the EPA has done little or nothing to test the effect of them.”
“A March 2008 study (AP Finds Prescription Drugs in Drinking Water, Water and Wastes Digest, March 10, 2008.) that checked the drinking water of twenty-eight major metropolitan U.S. regions found pharmaceutical products in the drinking water of twenty-four of them, putting 41 million people at risk” – adds Seth Siegiel
Author explains that the main reason for this situation is that up to 90% of the pills are not digested and after flushing in the toilet they start to travel in the second circuit. (Leigh Boerner, “The Complicated Question of Drugs in the Water: Pharmaceuticals—Inescapable in Medicine—Are Increasingly Prevalent in Our Drinking Water. But Is That a Problem?,” NOVA, May 14, 2014) Considering that Americans take much more drugs than in previous years (Atlanta: US Department of Health and Human Services, 2017) the scale of this issue seems to be large enough to be concerned.
Despite the alarming tone of the headline and recent bad reputation of TVP info as a source of information the content of the article turned out to be true. There were no misinformation in matter of statistical data, transleted quotations and mentioned conclusions of scientists. Studies, related to first statement, has been recognized as credible within the scientific community and quoted in respected journals. If it comes to the second statement Seth Siegiel’s words were correctly paraphrased. After closer look to his book we found out that there are numerous evidence of contraceptive pills (as well as other pharmaceuticals) are posing a potential threat not only for environment but also human health.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE: Franciszek Beszłej, Patryk Krawczyk,Karolina Mirowska, Anna Zborowska, Maciej Polcyn