Contraceptive Use in China Appears to Be Affecting Water Supply and Fish

by Eleanor Frances

In May of this year, an expert in heavy metal pollution in water and a former researcher at the University of Hawaii named Liangjie Dong reported in the Journal of Environmental Sciences, that China has high levels of estrogen disrupting compounds or EDC in its drinking water (Wencong). An artificial hormone known as progestins mimics the human progesterone, either alone or combined with estrogen. When used in contraceptive pills, these synthetic hormones make their way into the water supply. The study used 23 water samples from 6 river sources, finding all of them contaminated at higher levels than rivers in the United States, Europe, Australia, and South Korea (Liang and Pansey).

Lu, Mount. “Tap Water Containing Contraceptives How Negligible?” China Business Network. 18 May 2012. Web. 25 Oct. 2012.

The pills Chinese women take go through their digestive systems and out through the sanitation system where they affect water supply and marine life. Conventional water cleaning processes fail to catch the micro medicine EDC that is in the water. However, Tom Chan, who is the Chief engineer of the Shanghai Water Authority Water Supply Management Division, stated that the test was done using untreated river water, that only small or trace amounts were found, and that the water purification process reduces levels of EDC (“Experts”).  Nonetheless, others have noted that current water treatment methods in China are inadequate to stop the EDCs from getting into the drinking supply (Liang and Pansey). Compared to other countries, women in China consume a lot of contraceptive pills, with 70 percent of all women in China use contraception in contrast to only 2 percent in Cameroon (Hayes). Taking pills to stop from becoming pregnant is part of China’s efforts of population control.

Oas, Rebecca.  “What the Pill Is Doing to Our Water Supply.” Catholic Lane. 18 May 2012.  Web. 25 Oct. 2012.

There are concerns both within China and among those who buy fish from China, that the EDCs stay in the water and affect the marine population. The pills go into the local river systems where the fish are located.  Marine mammals are most affected by the medicine that is in the water because they are swimming in it. The EDC affects the female marine mammals the most because it makes them produce more females than males and sometimes the males turn into females. Fyfe, Melissa and Royce Millar “Alarm at Antibiotics in Fish Imports.” Live Skinny. 30 May 2012.  Web. 25 Oct. 2012. 

While it is unclear what the long term effects of these birth control pills will be, changes noted in lower life forms is always reason for concern. Even a liberal online magazine like Mother Nature Network has seemingly advocated trying alternatives to taking pills including abstinence, especially in light of the potential effects on the environment (Early). So, it is interesting to notice that this is one subject where conservatives and liberals should be able to reach agreement.

Works Cited

Early, Laura. “Birth Control Pill Endangers Fish Populations: Is A Convenient, Effective Birth Control That Contributes to Water Pollution Better Than No Birth Control?  Mother Nature Network 8 Sept. 2009. Web. 25 Oct. 2012.

“Experts Said Water Containing Contraceptives Is Sensational.” Healthy Lifestyle  6  July 2012.  Web. 25 Oct. 2012.

Hayes, Jeffrey. “Birth Control and Abortions in China.”  2008.  Web. 25 Oct. 2012.

Liang, Wang and Gary Pansey. China’s Drinking Water Contaminated With Contraceptives, Says Environmentalist.” Epoch Times 24 May 2012. Web. 25 Oct. 2012.

Wencong, Wu. “Infertility concerns after EDC claims.” China Daily. 24 May 2012. Web. 25 Oct. 2012.

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