The Effects Of Estrogen From Oral Contraception On Marine Organism

The Effects of Estrogen from Oral Contraception on Marine Organisms


















The Effects of Estrogen from Oral Contraception on Marine Organisms


My Name

Ecology PCB4043





Oral Contraception is known to many people around the world as the pill. This pill is one of the pharmaceutical industries number one selling drugs. It provides relief of hormone imbalances as well as prevention of unwanted pregnancy. The problem with the pill lies in its after effects. Once processed by the human body, excess is excreted as human waste which then enters into to the water supply. As these hormones enter the water supply around the world, which causes a number of disorders for the many types of marine life. These hormones cause defects on the new and upcoming marine life causing underdevelopment in male fish, and cause male fish to display characters of a female such as carrying eggs in the testes instead of sperm. This review will explore possible changes that may be beneficial to marine organisms; it will also look at issues that could surround future outcomes if nothing is done to correct this emergent problem.



A common worldwide female practice is the use of oral contraceptives (Fitzgerald Reading 2012).Oral contraceptives are primarily used to treat hormone imbalances in the body as well as prevent unwanted pregnancies in women. The hormones found in these contraceptives are progesterone and estrogen. A common form of estrogen used is a synthetic hormone called ethinyl-estradiol (EE2) (Wikipedia 2014). Though the effects of the pill may seem harmless, it in reality the levels of estrogen are becoming increasingly dangerous in the water supply as well as to marine life. The amount of EE2 in the water is causing select species of male fish to display female characteristics likewise females are becoming sterile due to the amount of excess estrogen they are internalizing. The effects of estrogen in the water may continue to show problems for marine life (Seaweb 2008). It is even possible that some forms of marine life will become extinct because of the damage to the reproductive systems.

The common waterways have a mix of hormones including estrogen as well as estrogen mimics. These hormones have shown to present a problem for wild fish. (Kidd et al. 2007). The synthetic hormone ethinyl-estradiol is typically given in low dosages to female patients as birth control. When EE2 is administered in the form of a pill, patch, or shot, it begins to attach itself to estrogen receptors. These receptors control the hormones involved in reproduction. EE2’s metabolism is immediately metabolized by the liver and will only stay in the body if the concentrations remain as it is. It will then be expelled and introduced into sewage systems. This causes a problem since the water will be treated at water treatment plants and considered clean; however, small traces of the EE2 hormone are still bound to the water molecules as this water is introduced back into the environment. (Seaweb 2008).

A major concern is that EE2 may cause sterilization in fish due to high amounts of EE2 or other natural hormones being released into aquatic habitats. (Storm and Graves 2001). When females take in the high levels of estrogen, it causes them to become sterile because EE2 is a synthetic hormone that mimics estrogen and the excess disrupts reproduction physiology in fish and other organisms. Some of the male fish that live in the produce vitellogenin (VTG) (a protein normally synthesized by females during oocyte maturation), this problem is causing early-stage eggs in their testes (Kidd et al. 2007). For males, researchers have found that they commonly develop oocytes in their testicles; endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can alter the hormonal and homeostatic systems that enable an organism to communicate with and respond to its environment (Heath and Fredrick 2005). Such chemicals that are not filtered out by water treatment systems pose a threat to fish and their offsprings. When males are producing eggs instead of sperm and females become sterile, no reproduction can occur and the species of fish may become extinct.

The future of this problematic issue does not bode well. It seems as though instead of looking for a way to reduce the amount of hormones that marine life are facing, more problems continue to rise. As young women get older and they use oral contraception, they too will add to the problem. Studies have shown that it is unclear how different pharmaceutical drugs that are released in the water will have an impact on future generations of marine life. (Seaweb 2008). In 2010, two environmental groups—the National Resources Defense Council and the Great Lakes Environmental Law, petitioned for the federal government to regulate the amount of hormones containing drugs being dispensed. The agencies responded that these two groups did not have sufficient evidence to show the amounts of hormones released. (Fallik 2013). As the future unfolds, more sources potentially will comprehend this problem and will be more inclined to make changes that will create regulation laws to protect marine organisms.

In conclusion, the sources of a major concern of the endocrine disruptors are that they are likely to increase worldwide over the years. The effects on the ecosystem are becoming further evident as the marine species are becoming more and more affected. This changes the environment, and provides new selection pressures. If they do not acclimatize, and eventually evolve, they may go extinct. The problem is that this is happening rapidly. It will be nearly impossible for future generations to avoid contact with the contaminated water. The future of this issue could turn out positive if the governments of nations start screening the water and include a hormone regulator to prevent mimic issues. Another positive passage could be to make a natural non-harmful estrogen mimic. This mimic can be added to the birth control medications with the same level of potency, but would not be harmful to the environment or the marine life.





I would like to thank Kendra K. For helping me in finding my primary sources as well as helping in the rereading of this paper. I am also thankful for my friends Vashtie J. and Albin O. for reading and correcting my paper. Thank you for your honesty as well as your helpful comments. Last I would l like to thank Dr. Tyler who provided helpful comments as well as helpful criticism. You all played a very large role in the success of this paper.



Literature Cited


Azua A, Chaudhary A, Gardinali PR, Khan S, Singh SP, Willett KL.2010. Occurrence and distribution of steroids, hormones and selected pharmaceuticals in South Florida coastal environments, Ecoscience, 19(2): 338-350.

Blanchfield, PJ, Evans, RE., Flick, RW,. Kidd, KA, Lazorchak, JM, Mills, KH, Palace, VP. 2007. Collapse of a fish population after exposure to a synthetic estrogen, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 104(21):8897-8901.


Brigid Fitzgerald Reading: Growth in World Contraceptive Use Stalling; 215 Million Women’s Needs Still Unmet [Internet]. c2012. [USA]: Brigid Fitzgerald Reading: [updated 2012 Mar 27; cited 2015 Mar 21]. Available from:

Dawn Fallik: This new study found more drugs in our drinking water than anybody knew ad no one’s doing anything about it. [Internet]. c2013. [USA]: Dawn Fallik. [updated 2013; cited 2015 March 21]. Available from:

Frederick, PC, Heath, JA. 2005. Relationships among mercury concentrations, hormones, and nesting effort of White Ibises (Eudocimus albus) in the Florida Everglades., 122(1): 255-267.


Graves, GA, Strom, DG. 2001. A comparison of mercury in estuarine fish between Florida Bay and the Indian River Lagoon, Florida, USA. 24(4):597-609.


Guo L, Gao S, Ru S, Tian H, Wang W, , Zhang X. 2014. An emerging water contaminant, semicarbazide, exerts an anti-estrogenic effect in zebrafish ( Danio rerio), Bulletin Environ Contam Toxicol, 93(3):280-288

SeaWeb: Chemicals in our waters are affecting humans and aquatic life in unanticipated ways [Internet]. c2008. [USA]: Seaweb; [cited 2015 March 21] Available from

Wynne Parry: Water Pollution Caused by Birth Control Poses Dilemma [Internet]. c2012. [USA]: Wynne Parry; [updated 2012 May 23; cited 2015 Mar 21]. Available from:

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