Environmental impact of estrogens on human, animal and plant life: A critical review

Water Pollution Caused by Birth Control Poses Dilemma – Environment International, 2017

2017 Study Abstract

Since the inception of global industrialization, steroidal estrogens have become an emerging and serious concern. Worldwide, steroid estrogens including estrone, estradiol and estriol, pose serious threats to soil, plants, water resources and humans. Indeed, estrogens have gained notable attention in recent years, due to their rapidly increasing concentrations in soil and water all over the world. Concern has been expressed regarding the entry of estrogens into the human food chain which in turn relates to how plants take up and metabolism estrogens.

In this review we explore the environmental fate of estrogens highlighting their release through effluent sources, their uptake, partitioning and physiological effects in the ecological system. We draw attention to the potential risk of intensive modern agriculture and waste disposal systems on estrogen release and their effects on human health. We also highlight their uptake and metabolism in plants.

We use MEDLINE and other search data bases for estrogens in the environment from 2005 to the present, with the majority of our sources spanning the past five years. Published acceptable daily intake of estrogens (μg/L) and predicted no effect concentrations (μg/L) are listed from published sources and used as thresholds to discuss reported levels of estrogens in the aquatic and terrestrial environments. Global levels of estrogens from river sources and from Waste Water Treatment Facilities have been mapped, together with transport pathways of estrogens in plants.

Estrogens at polluting levels have been detected at sites close to waste water treatment facilities and in groundwater at various sites globally. Estrogens at pollutant levels have been linked with breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men. Estrogens also perturb fish physiology and can affect reproductive development in both domestic and wild animals. Treatment of plants with steroid estrogen hormones or their precursors can affect root and shoot development, flowering and germination. However, estrogens can ameliorate the effects of other environmental stresses on the plant.

There is published evidence to establish a causal relationship between estrogens in the environment and breast cancer. However, there are serious gaps in our knowledge about estrogen levels in the environment and a call is required for a world wide effort to provide more data on many more samples sites. Of the data available, the synthetic estrogen, ethinyl estradiol, is more persistent in the environment than natural estrogens and may be a greater cause for environmental concern. Finally, we believe that there is an urgent requirement for inter-disciplinary studies of estrogens in order to better understand their ecological and environmental impact.

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