By Duane Craig
|Estrogen in drinking water courtesy of http://www.treehugger.com|
While popular reporting on this EPA effort to quantify risks associated with unregulated chemicals and compounds in drinking water focuses mainly on perchlorate, the list also includes volatile and synthetic organic compounds, perflourinated compounds, metals and viruses. But there are other telling substances in the crosshairs that could provide information about female cancers in the country.
What is Estradiol and Estriol?
At the top of the list, no doubt because of their alphabetical importance rather than their contaminant importance, is estradiol and estriol, a couple of hormones. Forms of estrogen, these hormones are produced naturally by females and they are also present in certain foods such as soy. When everything is in balance, estrogen performs its necessary functions, but when things go awry, such as when a cancer cell develops, estrogen can act as a stimulant to the cell and help it to grow and develop. Many women take pharmaceutical forms of estrogen in birth control pills and during menopause when using hormone replacement therapy.
The amount of pharmaceuticals and other surprising items excreted by humans that are found in the waters of the country is rather amazing. And the U.S. Geological Survey has research aimed at identifying emerging contaminants that come from principally municipal, agricultural and industrial wastewater. Researchers have found not only antibiotics, but also antimicrobials, in places you wouldn’t think they’d be, such as in pristine watersheds. Understanding the role of these contaminants on the environment is one thing, but assessing their effects on humans over time will take years to quantify and qualify.
Interestingly, caffeine is one of the most-found substances, but also estrogen-replacement drugs, anti-depressants and codeine have been detected. Many of these items have no water quality standards associated with them, so any amount is currently okay to have in drinking water systems.
Is Estrogen in drinking water a cause for cancer concern?
It will take time to determine if the estrogens found in public water systems are present in high enough concentrations to place women at higher risk of cancer, but there is evidence that other creatures in the environment are already being affected. Europe has been on the track of pharmaceutical contamination for at least a decade and researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden found pollutants that behave similar to estrogen turned male tadpoles into female adult frogs. In the U.S. it had been previously found that pesticides in the environment were causing sexual reversal in the same species of frogs. Pesticides and many other industrial chemicals act like estrogen on lifeforms.
The existence of estrogen in drinking water also affects men since estrogen has been widely used to treat prostate cancer, even with the added risks of blood clots and heart attacks. It stands to reason that once the numbers come in, and if they are high, estrogen may become a more watched contaminant than perchlorate.