National Catholic Register: Contracepting the environment – Birth-control poisoning of streams leave U.S. environmentalists mum
BOULDER, Colo. (National Catholic Register) – When EPA-funded scientists at the University of Colorado studied fish in a pristine mountain stream known as Boulder Creek two years ago, they were shocked. Randomly netting 123 trout and other fish downstream from the city’s sewer plant, they found that 101 were female, 12 were male and 10 were strange “intersex” fish with male and female features.
SWAN AT SUNSET – A swan moves quietly through the water at sunset last December in the Chesapeake Bay near Cambridge, Md. A 2005 EPA study was among the first in the country to demonstrate that a slurry of hormones, including those from birth-control pills, and antibiotics, caffeine and steroids is coursing down the nation’s waterways, threatening fish and contaminating drinking water. (Courtesy of Tom Lorsung/www.PeacefulPix.com)
It’s “the first thing that I’ve seen as a scientist that really scared me,” said then 59-year-old University of Colorado biologist John Woodling, speaking to the Denver Post in 2005.
They studied the fish and decided the main culprits were estrogens and other steroid hormones from birth-control pills and patches, excreted in urine into the city’s sewage system and then into the creek.
Woodling, University of Colorado physiology professor David Norris, and their EPA-study team were among the first scientists in the country to learn that a slurry of hormones, antibiotics, caffeine and steroids is coursing down the nation’s waterways, threatening fish and contaminating drinking water.
Since their findings, stories have been emerging everywhere. Scientists in western Washington found that synthetic estrogen – a common ingredient in oral contraceptives – drastically reduces the fertility of male rainbow trout.
Doug Myers, wetlands and habitat specialist for Washington State’s Puget Sound Action Team, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that in frogs, river otters and fish, scientists are “finding the presence of female hormones making the male species less male.”
This summer, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the American Pharmacists Association will begin a major public-awareness campaign regarding contamination that’s resulting from soaps and pharmaceuticals, including birth control.
What the Boulder scientists discovered, however, is that few people care.
Or, if they’re worried, they’re in denial.
“Nobody is getting passionately concerned about it,” Norris said. “It makes no sense to me at all that people aren’t more concerned.”
When the story of his finding hit Denver and Boulder newspapers, Norris anticipated an immediate response from environmentalists, who define the politics of Boulder and are known to picket in the streets demanding ends to questionable farming practices, global warming and pesticide treatments.
To the professor’s surprise, however, the hormone story was mostly ignored.
Two years later, environmental groups have failed to take up the cause of saving Boulder Creek and its fish from hormone pollution.
Dave Georgis, who directs the Colorado Genetic Engineering Action Network, took to the streets of Boulder on several occasions to hold signs demanding that Boulder County regulate genetically modified crops from existence.
When asked about the genetically modified fish and the contaminated drinking water, however, he said: “It just has so much competition out there for stuff to work on.”
He told the Boulder Weekly that nobody needed to consider curtailing use of artificial contraceptives out of concern for the creek.
“You can’t have a zero impact, and this is one of the many, many impacts we have on the environment in everyday life,” Georgis said. “Nobody is to blame for this, and I don’t have a solution.”
Norris, an environmentalist and birth-control advocate, said that until society achieves better sewage filtration and invents harmless contraceptives, “there’s always abstinence, and we know that it’s 100 percent effective.”
To preserve the self-giving nature of the sexual act, which must always be open to life, the Catechism teaches that it is wrong to use contraception. Couples may space their children for just reasons in ways using natural family planning, which involves observation of signs in the woman’s body.
Says the Catechism: “The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception)” (No. 2399).
But Catholics shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for environmentalists to advocate a boycott of contraceptives, said George Harden, a board member of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists, based in Steubenville, Ohio.
“If you’re killing mosquitoes to save people from the West Nile virus, you can count on secular environmentalists to lay down in front of the vapor truck, claiming some potential side effect that might result from the spray,” Harden said. “But if birth control deforms fish – backed by the proof of an EPA study – and threatens the drinking supply, mum will be the word.”
Harden said the growing knowledge of estrogen-polluted water may expose the cultural double-standards that protect birth control from the scrutiny given to other chemicals and drugs.
“It’s going to start looking funny,” Harden said. “The radical environmentalist won’t eat a corn chip if the corn contacted a pesticide. But they view it a sacred right and obligation to consume synthetic chemicals that alter a woman’s natural biological functions, even if this practice threatens ...
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