Sorry, Stephen Colbert.
In a discussion with guest Nicholas Kristof in July 2009, Colbert expressed fear that “lady pee” — which can contain estrogen from oral contraceptives — is the cause of sexual defects in aquatic animals.
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But in a new story for Chemical & Engineering News, I report that the Pill is the source of only a small fraction of the estrogens in drinking water.
To better understand the sources of estrogens in drinking water, UC San Francisco postdoctoral fellow Amber Wise and her colleagues reviewed 82 studies. Using the data they gathered, the researchers estimated that ethinylestradiol, the most commonly used synthetic estrogen in the birth control pill, likely accounts for less than 1% of the total estrogens excreted by Americans. In addition, the researchers found evidence for other estrogen sources that could play an important role in contaminating surface waters.