Factsheet: Male Infertility *

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
12.11.2008

  • There are more than 20 heavily industrialized nations where the birth of baby boys has declined every year for the past 30 years - amounting to 3 million fewer baby boys.
  • The number of boys born with penis abnormalities and genital defects has increased by 200% in the past two decades.
  • Boys have a higher incidence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, Tourett’s syndrome, cerebral palsy and dyslexia.
  • Boys are four times as likely to be autistic.
  • The average sperm count of a North American college student today is less than half of what it was 50 years ago.
  • The quality of sperm is declining. Eighty-five per cent of the sperm produced by a healthy male is DNA-damaged.
  • Damaged sperm have been linked to a 300% increase in testicular cancer - a form of cancer that affects young men in their 20s and 30s.
  • The chemical industry has developed more than 90,000 man-made chemicals in the last sixty years. Eighty-five percent of them have never undergone testing for their impact on the human body.

Backgrounder: The Chemicals

It is a deeply disturbing fact of modern life that we inhabit a world that has become increasingly toxic. Sixty years ago, only a few synthetic chemicals (laboratory-made compounds that do not exist in nature) had been invented. The explosion of modern chemistry began in the era of the military build up during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s.

More than 54 million chemical sequences have now been identified, and in the 60 years since the end of World War 2 more than 85,000 synthetic chemical compounds have been commercially developed and released into the environment.

Synthetic chemicals are now ubiquitous in our lives and widely dispersed in virtually everything we consume and touch. They are in the water we drink and the air we breathe. They saturate our food and clothing, our homes, schools and workplaces. Increasingly, there are real concerns about the torrent of chemicals that are flooding our world.

There are countless studies which document the ability of certain chemicals to cause disease in laboratory animals; chemicals that continue to be produced in the millions of tonnes for human consumption. Very few of these chemicals have been evaluated for their effects on the human body.

There are now literally hundreds of toxic chemicals that are either known to contribute, or are suspected of contributing, to serious health problems. These include cancers of the breast, prostate, brain and testicles; lowered sperm counts, early puberty, miscarriages and other defects of the reproductive system; diabetes; attention deficit disorder, asthma and autism. The chemical deluge also means that every generation of human beings is now more polluted than the last.

Here some information about two of the chemicals talked about in The Disappearing Male.

BISPHENOL-A

Amongst the chemicals most under the microscope for its negative health effects is a compound first synthesized in the 1890’s: Bisphenol A.

It languished until the 1930’s, when it was discovered that it could be used as a synthetic estrogen. In the 1950’s it was discovered that bisphenol-A had the remarkable ability to make plastics more pliable and less prone to crack. Between 1980 and 2000, U.S. production of bisphenol-A grew nearly five times. And it is now a ubiquitous component of clear polycarbonate plastic and it is very big business.

It is used to make compact discs, sunglasses, bicycle helmets, water and milk bottles, baby bottles, drinking cups, pacifiers, food storage containers, dental sealants, tableware, window frames, cell phones, car parts, toys, and some medical devices such as incubators, dialysis machines, and blood oxygenators. It is the de facto lining used in food cans to prevent corrosion. More than seven billion pounds of bisphenol A are produced each year worldwide.

The chemical is so common that over 95% of us have elevated levels of it in our bodies, and the younger you are the higher the level is likely to be. The problem is, even very low doses of bisphenol-A have been repeatedly linked to increased incidence of low sperm counts, the earlier onset of puberty, insulin resistance and diabetes, prostate and testicular abnormalities, among other effects.

In 2008, Canada announced it intends to ban the import and sale of polycarbonate baby bottles containing bisphenol A, making it the first country in the world to limit exposure to the controversial chemical. The ban would affect only baby bottles and not other food containers made with bisphenol A (BPA).

PHTHALATES

Phthalates are a class of widely-used compounds that soften plastic and hold scents and colors. They are found in products ranging from consumer electronics like the iPod and iPhone, food packaging, detergents, vinyl floor coverings, plastic toys and medical equipment. They are commonly found in products that are supposed to make us look good, and amongst the worst offenders are a wide variety of cosmetics, shampoos, and fragrances. Three quarters of personal care products contain them.

A study last year analyzed the phthalate concentration in common makeup products. Research that shows that boys born to mothers exposed to phthalates had smaller penises, and a whole host of problems which are now referred to as “testicular dysgenesis syndrome”. These include reproductive abnormalities that are strongly linked to the later development of testicular and prostate cancer.

One of the most comment plastics in the world - PVC or polyvinyl chloride - contains a Phthalate called DEHP. It’s been classified as toxic by several agencies around the world.

Ironically, PVC is used to make medical devices such as iv tubing, catheters and blood bags. In a hospital setting, an infant or child can be exposed to 200 times what is considered a safe amount in one single exposure. Studies have shown that the chemical can leach from the plastic and end up in the bodies to vulnerable children - especially male infants.

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