Oestrogen in Water

16 July 2014

There are a number of pollutants and contaminants in our drinking water supply that we are all too aware of here at Aquatec. We make it a priority to keep up to date with reports on potential pollutants making their way into the UK water supply to ensure that our whole house filtration units capture all harmful contaminants to deliver you pure water with its numerous benefits.

An alarming report based on official research on the effects of oestrogen in rivers on fish revealed that around half of the male fish in the UK’s lowland rivers had changed sex. It is understood that a synthetic oestrogen hormone was behind these alarming changes. The implication is that people in the UK could be consuming oestrogen in tap water that has potentially damaging affects on male fertility.

What is Oestrogen?

In very basic terms, oestrogen is a female sex hormone that helps women grow during puberty and is part of the menstrual cycle. The hormone oestrogen is secreted by the ovaries. However, a synthetic form of oestrogen is also used in oral contraceptives and Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).

pill oestrogen in tap water

Oestrogen in Rivers

There are 3 types of oestrogens in our rivers, according to this Fate & Behaviour of Oestrogens in Rivers: Scoping report from the Environment Agency. They are as follows:

  • Natural oestrogens – oestrone
  • 17β-estradiol
  • Synthetic ethinyl-oestradiol

Official research, financed by the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (D.E.F.R.A) and the official Natural Environment Research Council, has shown that half of the male fish in our rivers are changing sex due to pollution.

Roach oestrogen in water affect on fish

A synthetic form of oestrogen found in lowland rivers all over the country has resulted in male fish developing female characteristics. Just under 50 per cent of the male fish had developed eggs in their testes, and/or female reproductive ducts. One in ten male fish were sterile, and around a quarter had damaged sperm. In some sections of rivers all the male fish have been feminised (as reported in the Independent). These feminised males are found in all rivers including the Lea River in Hertfordshire from which London takes much of its drinking water and the Avon in Bristol.

The concern is that the same hormone is entering our drinking water and affecting human fertility. By consuming oestrogen in tap water, especially over a number of years, could have a detrimental effect on male fertility, reducing sperm count.

Oestrogen in water supply

How is oestrogen getting into our drinking water?

The synthetic oestrogen hormone – ethanol oestradiol – is used in the Contraceptive Pill as well as HRT pharmaceuticals. It is between 50 to 100 times more powerful than natural oestrogens, according to the Daily Mail, and is also one of the most difficult chemicals to breakdown. The urine of women who take the Pill or are undergoing HRT then passes through sewage works before ending up in the river. Nichola King highlighted in a Young Scientist report in February 2012, “the inefficiency of sewage processing for oestrogen removal”. With conventional sewage treatment ineffective at removing the synthetic hormone from water supplies we have a serious issue, especially as a third of all of our drinking water comes from rivers.


How much oestrogen is there in our tap water?

It is hard to say exactly how much oestrogen is present in our water supply as it is difficult to measure in such low concentrations but that does not mean it is not having a negative affect on our health. There is, in fact, no direct requirement for water companies to carry out tests for oestrogens in your water supply. Regulations 4, 16, and 27 of the Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations 2000 (England) cover the potential risk from all substances in water, including oestrogens but only offer guidance to water suppliers. Scientists believe that the levels of synthetic oestrogen in water that feminised fish were as low as one part per billion.

The concentrations of oestrogen in our tap water are not currently being tested but scientists believe that trace amounts do exist.

Professor Charles Tyler of Exeter University (one of the leaders of the research) explained to BBC Countryfile how the oestrogen levels go undetected:

“Some of the concentrations where we are seeing effects on fish are below the detection limit that is presently in place for testing our drinking water. So we cannot be sure that some of these compounds, albeit at very low concentrations, aren’t getting into our drinking water.”

Water companies have claimed that levels are too low to detect. However, in a project carried out in 2001, scientists developed ways to measure oestrogen levels in river water at low concentrations by carrying out tests on the Thames. Project leader Dr David McCalley told BBC News Online: “There is a real risk that discharges of oestrogen do perhaps find their way into drinking water…At present there are no standards laid down for what levels of oestrogen are permissible in water, but now we have developed a way to monitor these levels it might lead to standards being set.”

fertility issues with oestrogen in water supply

What are the issues with oestrogen in tap water?

Consuming more hormones upsets the natural balance of hormones in our bodies which can have all sorts of repercussions. If you consider how much water men drink over a number of years, it is not too much of a leap to consider that the oestrogen they are consuming may be affecting their reproductive health. Sperm counts have been falling dramatically in the UK over the last fifty years for a number of reasons of which this could be one. Any increase in hormone consumption can have an effect on both sexes with too much oestrogen linked to a number of conditions including poly-cystic ovaries.


Aquatec – Purify Your water

With tap water nowhere near as pure as water suppliers claim, it is important to ask yourself how happy you are consuming pharmaceutical pollutants as well as chlorine and fluoride that are added intentionally, on a daily basis. Our whole house water purifiers, filter and purify your water to 98-99% levels of purity, meaning that you can enjoy pure water from all of your taps. You no longer need to worry about the contaminants you are putting in your body and the effects they may be having on the health and wellbeing of your family. To find out more about our water purification systems call 0117 9109988 or provide your details via our form so that we can contact you directly at a convenient time.