Hormones and estrogens in drinking water

Endocrine disruptors can disrupt our hormone systems. These are substances that either trigger effects on our internal secreting glands directly or otherwise influence glandular activities in the body.

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Impairment of fertility

Since the 1960s, when concerns about the dangers of the agricultural pesticides were growing, no other effect of toxic substances gained more attention than the reports published in the early 1990s that suggested that endocrine disruptors in the environment could affect human and animal health, especially fertility.

In particular, the fact that these so-called endocrine occur in many everyday products and enter the world’s water supply either directly or via wastewater is worrying.

Natural estrogens

Natural estrogens like 17 β estradiol and estrone enter our waterways through human and animal urine. For example, a pregnant mare might excrete 100 mg a day. Human females, meanwhile, excrete between 25 μg and 30 mg of estrogen each day! Some women in menopause use between 2 and 8 mg of estradiol a day.

Studies of runoff leaving German sewage treatment plants, found up to 21 ng/l of 17 β-estradiol (Kalbfus 1998) and up to 76 ng/l of estrone (Wegener et al. 1999). Surface waterways in Bavaria had levels as high as 5.5 ng/l of estradiol (Bayerischer Landtag 2001) and up to 5 ng/L estrone, while the levels in Bavarian drinking water was still to 0.3 ng/l of estradiol and up to 1ng/l of estrone (Kalbfus 1998).

Synthetic estrogens

Synthetic estrogens, such as 17 α-ethinyl estradiol (annual production in Germany: 60 kg) and mestranol, are used in contraceptives (an average 0.05 mg per tablet) and hormone treatments. They undergo a chemical reaction are then excreted in an altered form in the woman’s urine, but they sometimes recombine into the active compounds once at the sewage treatment plant.

Synthetic estrogen is found in wastewater treatment plants more frequently and in higher concentrations than natural estrogens: 17α-ethinyl estradiol up to 62 ng l, mestranol up to 20 ng/l. Up to 3 ng/l ethinyl estradiol and up to 28 ng/l of mestranol has been found in surface waterways (Fent 2000). Up to 2 ng/l of ethinyl estradiol was found in treated drinking water in Bavaria (Kalbfus 1998).

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