Pink Water: Plastics, Pesticides, and Pills Are Contaminating Our Drinking Supply

By Pyhtila, Holly | Earth Island Journal, Autumn 2008 | Go to article overview

Pink Water: Plastics, Pesticides, and Pills Are Contaminating Our Drinking Supply


Pyhtila, Holly, Earth Island Journal


In September of 2007, the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program in Norway released some startling statistics about birthrates in the globe's northernmost reaches. The group found that twice as many girls as boys were being born in some Arctic villages, and that across much of Greenland, Canada, and Russia, a disproportionately high number of female births were occurring. In Sarnia, ON, home of one of the most extensive petrochemical complexes in the world, an unexpectedly large number of girls was also being born, according to Canadian census data. Nearby, a First Nation community had half as many boys as girls.

The accumulation of toxins such as PCBs, flame-retardants, and other artificial chemicals used in electronic equipment has been blamed for the shift in birthrates. These endocrine disruptors are carried by the weather to the Arctic, where they gather .in the water and the food chain and concentrate in the bloodstreams of largely meat- and fish-eating communities. Studies of mothers' blood indicated high levels of human hormone mimickers, leading researchers to conclude that man-made chemicals had triggered changes in the sex of unborn children in the first three weeks of gestation.

The Arctic birthrates, while exceptional, are not isolated. Across the globe, the gender balance of the human race appears to be changing. Historically, the number of male births has been slightly higher than the number of female births.

But a 2007 study by the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences found that in Japan and the US, there were 250,000 fewer boys than would have been expected had the birth/gender ratio from 1970 remained unchanged.

The exact cause of this shift is unclear. What scientists do know is that estrogen mimickers and endocrine disruptors found in our drinking water supply can have profound effects on humans, interfering with the synthesis, secretion, binding, and action of natural hormones. They affect reproduction, development, and behavior in humans, and can decrease fertility, skew the gender ratio toward female, and feminize genetic males.

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While North Americans can still boast of having the cleanest drinking water on the planet, big problems have developed with our water supply--and they're not the old concerns about microorganisms or waterborne diseases. This new breed of contaminants is of our own making.

Plastics, Pesticides, and Pills

An Associated Press study released in March of 2008 finds trace amounts of estrogen, as well as more than 50 prescription drugs, in the water sources of 41 million people. The AP discovered that drugs have been detected in the drinking water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas, from Detroit and Louisville to Southern California and Northern New Jersey. Although most of the levels of the contaminants meet current drinking water guidelines, studies have shown that mutations and sex organ changes in animals still occur at levels far below those limits.

How do these hormones and chemicals enter our water supplies?

Chemicals leaching from plastic are a major source of estrogen compounds in the water supply. Bisphenol A (BPA), a known endocrine disruptor, is a central component in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, and over six billion pounds of it are produced in the US each year. This chemical has been used for decades in the lining of food cans, plastics, baby bottles, and dental fillings.

When plastic is discarded, it doesn't biodegrade; rather, it photodegrades, which means it breaks down under sunlight. When plastic containing BPA photodegrades, it eventually releases estrogen mimickers that can leach into the water supply. When combined with chlorine used to purify municipal water, harmful estrogen-mimicking organ chlorides are also formed. Phthalates, also endocrine disruptors, are another widely used toxic chemical, used primarily to soften otherwise hard plastics. …

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