Taking good care of the environment

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waterPope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si  invites us to reflect on the beauty of God’s creation and reminds us of our responsibility to care for the environment. The Holy Father draws attention not only to current environmental issues but also human ecology issues such as abortion, population control, experimentation on embryos, and other offenses against the sanctity of life.

Although people are very concerned about protecting the environment and humans from genetically modified crops, pesticides, and other hazards, there is very little concern about contamination of the body and the environment with potent steroid hormones (such as those in birth control pills).

Where are the hormones coming from?

Xenoestrogen, or hormones that imitate estrogen contaminate the environment from many sources such as plastics, detergents, fertilizers, and phthalates. Ethinyl Estradiol (EE2) is a potent synthetic estrogen used for birth control pills, rings, shots, and patches. It is excreted through urine to sewage treatment plants and is contaminating tap water world wide. Comparing all sources of estrogen, EE2 activity poses the greater ecological risk.

According to the most recent data available, 9 per cent of women aged 15 to 49 use the pill. Countries with the highest prevalence of pill use—over 40 percent—include Algeria, Czech Republic, France, Morocco, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Zimbabwe. Researchers have found that synthetic hormones can be transported considerable distances from the source of pollution.

How estrogen affects humans and the environment?

Natural estrogens produced in the human endocrine system enter the cell and activate receptors triggering processes in the cells such as gene expression. Natural estrogens have a short life, do not accumulate in tissues, and are easily brokeestradiol-synthetic-naturaln down in the liver. In contrast, synthetic hormones such as EE2 are more stable, remain in the body longer than natural estrogen, and tend to accumulate in the fat and tissues of animals and humans. Synthetic estrogens can disrupt the cell’s natural hormonal processing, mimicking, blocking or cancelling natural estrogen’s effects.

What are the effects on the human body and the environment?

Excess estrogen (natural or synthetic) in humans has been related to infertility, breast cancer, endometriosis, fibromyalgia, prostate cancer, and early puberty.

Genetic alterations caused by synthetic hormones present in the aquatic environment have also been found in wildlife. Researchers have found that caged adult trout exposed to synthetic estrogen were half as fertile as fish kept in clean water. Exposure of zebra fish to low doses of EE2 has produced persistent changes in their behavior and fertility. Even the next generation of fish not directly exposed to EE2 was affected by their parents’ exposure. Toxicologists have also found that the presence of synthetic hormones made the male species less male in frogs, river otters and fish, thus affecting their ability to reproduce.

vida nuevaWhat we can do?

Elimination of synthetic estrogen in water treatment plants is complicated and very expensive. Upgrades to the waste treatment plants in Britain to remove EE2 could cost up to $46 billion and another $960,000 per year to operate the system. A much easier and effective solution would be to educate everyone to stop polluting the water with hormones. Education on breastfeeding and fertility awareness methods for spacing children would help women appreciate their fertility and take good care of God’s creation.

“The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all.” Pope Francis


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