You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myStatesman.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myStatesman.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myStatesman.com.

Are chemicals putting your sperm in trouble?


Let’s begin with sex.

As a couple finishes its business, millions of sperm begin theirs: rushing toward an egg to fertilize it. But these days, scientists say, an increasing proportion of sperm — now about 90 percent in a typical young man — are misshapen, sometimes with two heads or two tails.

Even when properly shaped, today’s sperm are often pathetic swimmers, veering like drunks or paddling crazily in circles. Sperm counts also appear to have dropped sharply in the last 75 years, in ways that affect our ability to reproduce.

This isn’t just a puzzling curiosity, but is rather an urgent concern that affects reproduction, possibly even our species’ future.

Andrea Gore, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Texas at Austin and editor of the journal Endocrinology, put it to me this way: “Semen quality and fertility in men have decreased. Not everyone who wants to reproduce will be able to. And the costs of male disorders to quality of life, and the economic burden to society, are inestimable.”

Human and animal studies suggest that a crucial culprit is a common class of chemical called endocrine disruptors, found in plastics, cosmetics, couches, pesticides and countless other products. Because of the environmental links, The New Yorker once elegantly referred to the crisis as “silent sperm,” and innumerable studies over 25 years add to the concern that the world’s sperm are in trouble.

And so are men and boys. Apparently related to the problem of declining semen quality is an increase in testicular cancer in many countries; in undescended testicles; and in a congenital malformation of the penis called hypospadias (in which the urethra exits the side or base of the penis instead of the tip).

There is still disagreement about the scale of the problem, and the data aren’t always reliable. But some scientists are beginning to ask, At some point, will we face a crisis in human reproduction? Might we do to ourselves what we did to bald eagles in the 1950s and 1960s?

“I think we are at a turning point,” Niels Erik Skakkebaek, a Danish fertility scholar and pioneer in this field, told me. “It is a matter of whether we can sustain ourselves.”

One recent study found that of sperm donor applicants in Hunan province, China, 56 percent qualified in 2001 because their sperm met standards of healthiness. By 2015, only 18 percent qualified.

How should we protect ourselves? Swan said she avoids plastics as much as possible, including food or drinks that have touched plastic or been heated in plastic. She recommends eating organic to avoid pesticide residues, and avoiding Tylenol and other painkillers during pregnancy. When in doubt, she consults guides at ewg.org/consumer-guides.

Yet this isn’t just a matter of individual action, but is also a public policy issue that affects tens of millions of people, their capacity to reproduce and their health and life expectancy.

What’s needed above all is more aggressive regulation of endocrine disrupting chemicals. The United States has been much slower than Europe to regulate toxic chemicals, and most chemicals sold in the U.S. have never been tested for safety.

The larger question is why we allow the chemical industry — by spending $100,000 on lobbying per member of Congress — to buy its way out of effective regulation of endocrine disruptors.

If you doubt the stakes, remember this: Our human future will only be as healthy as our sperm.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Letters to the editor: April 27, 2017
Letters to the editor: April 27, 2017

U.S. Rep. Roger Williams launched an attack on consumer financial protection by attempting to block an important rule for prepaid debit cards. The rule, issued in October by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, provides safeguards for those who use prepaid cards to make purchases and manage their money. In addition to protections against loss...
Nowrasteh: SB4 aimed at ‘sanctuary jurisdictions’ is wrong for Texas
Nowrasteh: SB4 aimed at ‘sanctuary jurisdictions’ is wrong for Texas

President Trump’s focus on immigration enforcement has filtered down to the state-level in Texas. The State Senate passed Sen. Charles Perry’s (R-Lubbock) controversial bill, Senate Bill 4, in February. SB4 would penalize every so-called “sanctuary jurisdiction,” which includes cities, counties and universities who do not honor...
Misguided faith in government is unlearned lesson of LA riots

This weekend marks 100 days of the Trump administration. This milestone also coincides with a very important anniversary. Twenty-five years ago, riots exploded in Los Angeles after four policemen were acquitted in the violent beating of Rodney King. Sixty-three lives were lost in the riots, with the estimated total economic cost pegged at $1 billion...
U.S. Rep. Williams: CHOICE Act would have toughest penalties for fraud
U.S. Rep. Williams: CHOICE Act would have toughest penalties for fraud

Economists at a prominent think tank based in Washington, D.C. last week reported that a full repeal of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act would boost the economy by 1 percent and generate $340 billion in federal revenue over a 10-year period. Dodd-Frank, as it is called for short, was passed by the Democrat controlled Congress...
Letters to the editor: April 26, 2017
Letters to the editor: April 26, 2017

I get it. We like blowing stuff up. It’s a primal attraction. Explosives are powerful — but indiscriminate. Fourteen states are using cyanide bombs to kill wildlife — and Texas leads the country in animal deaths by sodium cyanide M-44s. Thousands of coyotes, foxes, possums, raccoons and skunks meet their end this way in our state...
More Stories