Synthetic hormonal use in humans and emerging risks to the environment
Neil Noesen, PharmD
We are just beginning to realize the long-term adverse physiological and psychological effects for human users of synthetic hormones, their welfare, and the ecological safety of our environment and drinking water due to the survival of their metabolites through our bodies and through our waste water treatment facilities. Emerging risks are being discovered and evaluated.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified research needs to determine future risks of synthetic estrogen metabolites in our environment, such as those from ethinyl estradiol, and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). The EPA would like studies to determine the effects of EDCs on reproductive, neurological, and immunological function, as well as carcinogenesis. The White House’s Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources increased their budget to include studies in these areas on EDCs. The US Congress added provisions to the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) and the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1996 to require testing for estrogenicity and other hormonal activity. The Endocrine Disruptor Screening and Testing Advisory Committee (EDSTAC) was established in 1998 as part of the Toxic Substances Control Act. The study of EDCs has become one of the biggest testing programs ever in the history of toxicology.
The persistence of pharmaceutical contaminants in our aquatic environment may be partially attributed to human consumption of drugs and subsequent discharges from sewage treatment plants. The contamination of our water resources by pharmaceuticals and their metabolites, particularly the EDCs, is emerging as an international environmental concern. The long-term effects of human exposure to continuous low-level EDCs are not yet well understood.
Many researches have been able to correlate endocrine system
anomalies due to contaminants of EDCs. There are a few researchers who have
documented examples of aberrant animal behavior and disruptions of their reproductive
patterns due to EDCs in their habitat: gulls from
David Quanrud et al have done some very interesting theoretical work by isolating one of the human estrogen receptors to determine how significant our exposure is to these detectable estrogenic contaminants. The contaminants of ethinyl estradiol metabolites that are passed through human urine and through waste water treatment plants are showing to be of high enough concentrations to remove natural human estrogen from their receptors due to a displacement by the estrogenic contaminants found in the Constructed Ecosystems Research Facility. These studies are called competitive binding assays and involve only isolated human receptors. Therefore no hard evidence can yet be drawn from these studies in their relation to whole organism toxicity. Work is underway at establishing correlations between these binding assays and more physiological relevant bioassays to determine whole organism toxicity.
 Daston, George P. Toxicological Sciences. 74(2):245-252, August 2003.
 Boyd, Glen R., Grimm, Deborah A. Occurrence of Pharmaceutical
Contaminants and Screening of Treatment Alternatives for Shoutheastern
 Sedlak, David L., Pinkston, Karen E Factors Affecting the Concentration of
Pharmaceuticals Released to the Aquatic Environment. Department of Civil and
 Colbourn, T. Dumanoski, D., and Myers, J.P. (1996) Our Stolen Future.
 Roefer, P., Snyder, S., Zegers, R.E., Rexing, D.J., and Fronk, J.L. 2000 Endocrine disrupting chemicals in a source water. Journal of the American Water Works Association, 92(8):52-58.
Tyler,C.R., Jobling,S., and Sumpter,J.P. 1998. Endocrine disruption in wildlife: a critical review of the evidence. Critical Reviews in Toxicology, 28(4):319-361.