Thursday, 7 June 2012

Share our pill with fish and frog, or not?

Fresh water fish get the pill. Ingredients of contraceptive pills passing through wast water treatment plants into rivers and lakes. For example one of them, ethinyl estradiol (EE2), causes  formation of eggs in tests of male fish. Thus their reproduction is reduced and populations may collapse. Likewise amphibian can be threatened. 

Frog aus dem Spiegel 
This problem is known since several decades. Now European regulation may be set up to limit it. Waste water treatment plants should be equipped to limit EE2 in water bodies to no more than 35 parts per thousand trillion. This is very little, but the substance is very active too. At that concentration a mouth full of water (20 cm³) would hold still 20 million molecules ethinyl estradiol among about three-hundred trillion more water molecules.

Opposition against this regulation is strong, also because of high cost to equip waste water treatment plants.  The wast water treatment process has to be augmented with a step using adsorption on to activated carbon. That treatment would clean the water of other harmful substance too.  Cost estimates are about ~ 30€ per person to install the equipment and ~ 3€ per year and person to run it.

It seems fair that this investment is proposed to the European legislator. It would allow to handle our reproduction in a responsible manner and to protect the environment.

But how to share that investment between public and private under the assumption that ethinyl estradiol (EE2) is suitable for mass production and mass consumption of contraceptive pills? Controlling potential harm to our environment by pollution or further population growth seems needed; also considering that worldwide only three in hundred woman are using contraceptive pills, leaving a wide margin for increase.

Nevertheless it should be asked too, why it was not replaced in due course of last decades since its harmful effects are known?  The substance was developed 1938 and is known too for having side effects on people. It is not the only substance released into fresh water systems that alter or hinder reproduction of fish and amphibian. The proposed enhanced wast water treatment process would clean water of these substances too. Thus it seems worth doing or o we have one control dilemma more, as NATURE [1] reports?

[1] The hidden cost of flexible fertility, R. Owen and S. Jobling, Nature, Vol 485 p. 441

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