The birth control pill is a hot topic in the U.S. these days in regards to who should be required to pay for it and who should not. Turns out it's also coming under scrutiny on the other side of the pond in Europe — but for a very different reason. Environmental experts are concerned about the effect the pill has after use, once it is released into the environment through the public water system.
A recent paper written by Richard Owen and Susan Jobling and published in Nature, argues that after birth control pills do their jobs as pregnancy blockers, they may be adversely affect the environment. Owen, a professor at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, and Jobling, an ecotoxicologist at the University of Brunel, want the European Union to open a public debate on the need for regulation of chemicals in the birth control pill that make their way into the environment.
Owen and Jobling studied ethinyl estradiol, a type of synthetic estrogen found in many birth control pills. In humans, it does the job it's supposed to do and controls pregnancy, but once it is released into the environment (via wastewater), it might have the potential to create deformities in aquatic organisms and other animals. For example, according to their research, male frogs and fish may become "demasculinized" by exposure to ethinyl estradiol, affecting their ability to reproduce.
Owen and Jobling argue that it would be cost-effective to filter the chemicals from wastewater before the water is released into the environment. The European Union is the first entity to seriously consider mandating the removal of ethinyl estradiol from wastewater.