This article was originally published in the Scope of New London, Connecticut.
There’s a very good chance that there is no basis to all of the recent research suggesting that chemical exposure is causing exponentially greater amounts of damage to our ability to reproduce. Infertility and sexual abnormalities might not in fact be caused by the things we choose to ingest out of the need for convenience, the desire for cheap goods, and the ignorance of what’s going on.
Personally, I’m not so optimistic.
Here are the findings of some recent studies. Sperm counts in America are down 50% over the last 50 years (Randall Fitzgerald, The Hundred-Year Lie 150). 120,000 birth defects in America are attributed to chemicals annually (148). A 2001 study in China found that 85% of college students are infertile (150). Drinking tap water was correlated with increased miscarriages in 1998 (80). Phthalates (common plastics used in toys) have been linked to reproductive defects and developmental problems in children (82, 86). The children of pregnant women exposed to New York City air pollution had a 50% increase in genetic abnormalities (84). A 2000 study showed that half of all pregnancies lead to less than healthy babies (82).
Over the past one hundred years, tens of thousands of chemicals have been introduced into our lives. They are the pesticides in our food, the cleaning products in our homes, the chlorine and flouride in our water, the flame retardants in our carpets, and so on. Many of them have never been tested (companies producing the chemicals are responsible for their own safety research), and many of those originally found to be safe have since been taken off the market.
The most famous example of this was with DDT, which, incredibly, was sprayed all over children to prevent the spread of lice before it was found to be highly toxic. Another example is DBCP, a soil fumigant banned 20 years after its introduction. It is estimated that hundreds or thousands of men became infertile because of DBCP (69).
Exposed to small doses of any of these chemicals, the liver is perfectly capable of filtering the garbage out. But when you put many small doses from different sources together, you end up with a chemical cocktail that our bodies just can’t handle.
Frighteningly, a number of acute reproductive mutations have taken place among various animal populations in recent years as a result of chemical pollution. A number of fish populations across the nation are experiencing an explosion of hermaphrodite rates and reversed sex organs. 84% of the salmon in the Columbia river in Washington have been affected, as have 60% in the Potomac in Maryland (152). Male alligators in Florida’s Lake Apopka are being born without phalli.
An increasing number of chemicals have been indicted. Half of all of the rivers and streams in America are contaminated with Prozac, which is known to interfere with growth and reproduction (153). In 2002, Nature reported that the herbicide Atrazine causes “chemical castration” (154). Some chemicals act as hormones like estrogen, causing severe hormone imbalances. Synthetic estrogens are especially dangerous “because they can persist in the body for years, while plant estrogens might be eliminated in a day” (154).
Really, we are only beginning to study the effects of low level chemical exposure. The traditional method of research is animal testing, but this is problematic because chemicals often have strange and unpredictable results. A recent study found that out of all the known side effects caused to humans by various medications, only 76% appear in animals. On the other hand, generally benign medications like penicillin and aspirin cause strong reactions (such as death) in animals (163).
This lack of data, combined with the fact that the chemicals are innocent until proven guilty, puts the public (us) in quite an unenviable position: test subject. Most chemical recalls happen far too late, and it appears that chemical-caused reproductive disorders are skyrocketing.
We consumers need to make more of an effort to buy organic, read labels, use natural products, and learn to be aware of the toxins in the world around us. You can also look into detoxification diets, colon cleanses and liver flushes. Taking these steps will lead to a measurable increase in your health, and hopefully prevent you from being the next victim of an “unexplainable” mutation.