Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Women's Health

Font Size

Birth Control Pills Not a Major Source of Estrogen in Water Supply

Livestock Waste, Soy, and Dairy Foods Leach More Estrogen Into Drinking Water Than Oral Contraceptives, Study Finds
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Dec. 10, 2010 -- Oral contraceptives account for just 1% of the estrogen found in our drinking water supply, according to a new report in Environmental Science & Technology.

Reports of intersex fish, including male fish with some female characteristics, led to widespread concerns about female hormones leaching into the nation’s water supply. Some suspected that estrogen from birth control pills excreted in urine may be a significant contributor, but the new study exonerates birth control pills as a main source of estrogen in our drinking supply. Instead, agricultural sources such as livestock waste, soy and dairy foods, and other pharmaceuticals are among the main culprits.

“When you take a birth control pill, whatever is excreted goes through a treatment plant, so only a very minimal amount reaches the drinking water,” says study author Tracey Woodruff, PhD, MPH, an associate professor and director of University of California-San Francisco's Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment. Unlike human urine, cow urine is not treated before it enters our water supply.

This is not to say that hormones in the drinking water are not contributing to human health problems, including breast cancer, early puberty, and other reproductive issues, she says.

Solutions Needed

“There are a lot of other sources that we should be concerned about,” Woodruff says. Hormone replacement therapy and other drugs also contribute hormones to the drinking supply, she says. But “improvements in drug delivery systems so we use lower doses can help minimize the amount that gets into our water supply."

Woodruff and colleagues analyzed the main sources of estrogen in the drinking water supply. They found that waste water treatment systems remove most of the estrogen found in birth control pills so it never reaches the drinking water. Soy and dairy products and animal waste contribute far more estrogen to the water supply than do oral contraceptives.

What’s more, it’s not just women who excrete hormones in their urine. Men and children excrete hormones in their urine, she says.

Kirsten Moore,president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Reproductive Health Technologies Project, a national nonprofit group advocating for contraceptive and reproductive choices, says “the good news is that estrogen from birth control pills is not the big concern that some media reports have made it out to be.”

“There is reason to be concerned about the estrogenicity of drinking water, but the role that birth control pills play is minimal,” Moore tells WebMD.

Cleaning up the water supply should take priority. “We would like to see more solutions in place like improving water treatments to eliminate some of the sources of estrogen that are making it into the water supply.”

Today on WebMD

hands on abdomen
Test your knowledge.
womans hand on abdomen
Are you ready for baby?
birth control pills
Learn about your options.
Is it menopause or something else?
woman in bathtub
bp app on smartwatch and phone
estrogen gene

Send yourself a link to download the app.

Loading ...

Please wait...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.


Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Blood pressure check
hot water bottle on stomach
Attractive young woman standing in front of mirror