Now women are being asked to give up birth control pills for the environment?
Wherever possible, Tina Casale switches to compact fluorescent light bulbs; she also recycles daily, rides in carpools or walks when she can, and, as a third-grade teacher, has made it a priority to ensure that global warming is a frequent topic in her science discussions.
But in the eyes of some activists, Casale could be doing more to save the environment: Namely, tossing out her birth control pills.
Birth control pills, like batteries and baby bottles, have become the latest item in American homes to become a focus of environmental and health concerns. As scientists debate the effects of synthetic hormones that are flushed into waterways, the potential threat has sparked a clash between advocates and critics of the pill.
"I've heard a little bit about the bad things that birth control can do to the environment," said Casale, 26, who lives in New York City. "If it's causing major problems, I guess I would stop. But to me, the health effects of the pill are a much greater concern than the fate of fish."
In 2003, a group of scientists in Washington state made headlines when they discovered that traces of synthetic estrogen in the state's rivers had reduced the fertility of male fish. Hormonal birth control pills and patches were blamed. Two years later, a team of scientists funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found trout with both female and male characteristics. The culprit, again, was synthetic estrogen.
David Norris, a physiology professor at the University of Colorado, said it is not just estrogen's possible negative effects on aquatic environments that concern him as much as the exposure of these hormones to humans, especially fetuses and newborns. Norris said numerous reports show that estrogenic chemicals in water can result in thyroid problems and an adrenaline imbalance. Thyroid inhibitors are of major concern because they affect the nervous system's development and can cause permanent mental retardation. . . .
On the other side, it is pointed out that those making the link haven't proven the exact source of the estrogen:
Heather Trim, the urban bays and toxics program manager at the People for Puget Sound in Washington, warns women that there is no evidence in the United States of the human impact of contaminated estrogen water, and that women should not discard their pills just yet.
"Estrogen is also found in products like hair straighteners and plastics," said Trim. "It's not necessarily just birth control." . . .