The hormone estrogen, among other estrogen compounds, is frequently found in surface water, wastewater, and drinking water. Importantly, synthetic estrogen in water can pose adverse effects if ingested in high amounts.
This guide will cover the primary sources of estrogens in water, other hormones to be aware of, and most importantly, how to remove them from your water supply.
- Hormones like estrogen and testosterone enter the drinking water supply from wastewater contamination and are addressed in sewage treatment plants.
- Ingesting water contaminated with estrogen can lead to an increased risk of several types of cancer, male infertility, and breast tissue development.
- Contrary to popular belief, birth control pills account for less than 1% of the estrogen in drinking water, while animal waste is responsible for 90% of the estrogen in the environment.
The most effective treatment to remove synthetic hormones like estrogen and testosterone from drinking water is reverse osmosis or activated carbon filtration.
How Does Estrogen Get Into The Water Supply
There are two forms of estrogen found in the water supply – natural estrogens and synthetic ones. Natural estrogens come from plant compounds like soy. Synthetic estrogens on the other hand are man-made, like the hormones found in birth control pills.
In the past, people hypothesized that the increase in estrogen in drinking water was due to women taking oral contraceptives. Also, pregnant women excrete more estrogen than the average person.
In actuality, a recent study indicated that hormonal contraception is responsible for only 1% of estrogenic compounds in the water supply. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is another commonly used pharmaceutical intervention that leads to hormones like estrogen turning up in trace amounts in water.
Wastewater from sewage treatment plants is one of the main ways estrogen compounds enter the water supply, but this isn’t just from women taking hormones. Not just women excrete hormones into wastewater, men do as well.
The other primary source of estrogen in water is agricultural runoff. Animal waste contributes to approximately 90% of the estrogen found in drinking water. The cattle industry uses steroid hormones to promote growth and boost milk production.
Another factor is the improper disposal of medications from pharmaceutical manufacturing companies. People flushing pharmaceuticals down the toilet rather than putting them in the trash is another contributor.
What Other Hormones May Be Present In Tap Water?
Results from a 2008 US Geological Survey (USGS) showed that there were 85 man-made contaminants, including medications, in the water supply. The survey included data from two large nationwide studies.
Estrogen itself isn’t the main problem, but numerous estrogenic compounds are in the water. For example, bisphenol A (BPA) is an artificial estrogen. It’s commonly used in plastic goods.
Other estrogen compounds that were found in the survey include:
Progesterone is a steroid hormone commonly used in contraceptive pills to prevent pregnancy. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) requires that all pharmaceuticals that contain progesterone have a warning label to state it can cause thrombosis and pulmonary embolism.
Estrogen can enter the drinking water supply via a contraceptive pill in the form of estradiol, which women excrete through feces and urine. Estradiol is the most potent form of estrogen made naturally in the body. Studies have found that more than 2.5 billion women are using contraceptive pills throughout the world.
Testosterone is a major sex hormone that impacts sexual development. Elevated levels of testosterone can lead to increased risk-taking behavior in both men and women. Testosterone has also been shown to be a major contributor to anti-social behavior in women and men.
Cortisol is the most common glucocorticoid in the body. Excessive amounts of glucocorticoids can lead to serious effects on the human body. Therefore, it is highly regulated and can be obtained only by prescription.
Is There Estrogen In Water Bottles?
Research has indicated alarming concentrations of the endocrine disruptor Bisphenol A (BPA) are present in some bottled water. Furthermore, the detection of estrogen is 3 times higher in water packaged in plastic bottles made with polyethylene terephthalate (PET) when compared to water from the same spring that is packed in glass. This may come down to the type of plastic used to house the water rather than the water itself.
It depends on the brand, but bottled water sources are similar to tap water, so there is reason to assume that small amounts of estrogens are in bottled water as well. This holds for not only bottled water, but also when looking for a filtered water bottle for everyday use.
What Are The Effects Of Estrogen In Drinking Water
Research in fish and other animals has indicated the potential for negative health effects from consuming high amounts of estrogen, especially on reproduction, but there is not a substantial evidence base for its effect on humans.
Long-term consequences may include:
- Cancer: several types of cancers are hormone-responsive
- Male infertility: links have been established between reduced sperm count in fish and estrogen in water
- Obesity: weight gain has been linked to rising estrogen levels
At present, there are no direct links to adverse effects. Only speculation exists connecting estrogenic compounds and negative health outcomes. This study determined that estrogen impacted sexual development in pubescent adolescents.
Critics are primary concern about fertility and other reproductive issues in humans since these problems have been observed in aquatic species.
However, a 2010 study looked at the levels of estrogenic compounds in water and the US population and said that for children’s exposure, the levels in drinking water are 150 times lower than that of milk. The authors confirmed that the amounts of the hormone from both natural estrogens and artificial estrogens were negligible to cause adverse health effects. Another large systematic study concluded that very small amounts are not thought to have negative health effects on groundwater.
The issue is that in trace effects, estrogen compounds are probably okay. The flip side of this is that it’s the combination of endocrine disruptors that may be problematic since estrogenic compounds are still endocrine disruptors. This has been labeled as “the stew effect.”
In his book, “Troubled Water” by Seth M. Siegel, Siegel explores many eye-opening topics about our water system in the United States, including endocrine disruptors. Estrogen is just one of several endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruption is a growing concern in the U.S.
This 2020 study investigated the effects of endocrine disruptors, including estrogen, in water. It concluded that endocrine disrupting chemicals can significantly impair the fertility of humans and animals.
While it may impact developing young adults the most, everyone may be affected by estrogenic chemicals in the water supply. It is a very complex issue that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is aware of but it is simply not the most pressing item on the agenda.
Are Hormones In Water Supplies Regulated?
Method 539 is the EPA’s document outlining how to measure steroid hormones like estrogen in drinking water. Scientists use this framework for guidance on how to test for estrogen levels in water. There is an ongoing analysis on how to effectively measure and report the levels of these compounds in drinking water.
The hormones that are being monitored under Method 539 are:
- 17- α-estradiol
- Bisphenol A
The Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR) falls under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) so unregulated contaminants must be evaluated every 5 years. The EPA’s screening survey lists seven hormones in drinking water that are being monitored.
The contaminant candidate list (CCL) exists for unregulated contaminants to be recognized but the list does not impose any rules or requirements for water treatment plants or public water systems. The contaminant 17-alpha ethynyl estradiol is a synthetic estrogen that is on the CCR 5.
At the time, there is no set maximum contaminant level (MCL) or any regulatory figure for estrogen in drinking water or any estrogenic compound.
How To Remove Estrogen From Water
The best way to ensure a surplus of estrogen and other hormones is not present in drinking water is to use a combination of reverse osmosis and activated carbon filters.
Reverse osmosis (RO) is the most accessible and effective filtration system to remove a wide range of contaminants from drinking water. Research on estrogen in drinking water specifically identified that RO systems can remove 90% of estrogens from water.
Reverse osmosis systems forcefully push water through a semipermeable membrane to filter out contaminants including heavy metals and pathogens.
RO systems can be used as point-of-use systems or whole-house systems. The main downside of RO systems is that traditional models can waste a meaningful amount of water.
An activated carbon filter will also remove harmful hormones like estrogen compounds. Activated carbon filtration can be a whole house system, an under-sink filter, a faucet filter, a pitcher filter, or as a refrigerator filter.
The system works by filtering contaminated water through activated carbon to produce clean water. This filtration system doesn’t waste as much water as RO and doesn’t remove helpful minerals from drinking water.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does boiling water remove estrogen?
No, boiling water does not remove estrogenic chemicals from water.
How much estrogen is in a bottle of water?
There are small amounts of estrogenic materials in bottled water that uses plastic bottles. High estrogenic activity was found in 60% of the top mineral water brands, with 78% of them packaged in plastic bottles.
Is their birth control in our water?
There are small amounts of hormones from contraceptive pills that find their way into the water supply. However, birth control pills are less than a 1% contributor to estrogen in drinking water.
Is estrogen in water a myth?
This isn’t necessarily a myth, but the narrative about estrogen in drinking water has been a bit misconstrued. It’s not just a concern from an increase in women taking a birth control pill. This is likely because there are many unknowns in this area, which tends to breed misinformation.