how pollution is turning men sterile

Male sperm counts across the world are in freefall and solving their problem will be difficult, especially because those who could help us most, don’t want to…

sperm and egg

Experts who study human fertility are coming to an alarming conclusion. Male sperm counts are plummeting, even if we completely disregard every study on male fertility prior to 1995 to ensure consistency in data collection, and urge a lot of caution in interpreting the results. With far lower birth rates in the developed world, longer times to start a family, and widespread use of contraceptives, it took us a while to notice, but the proof has been staring at us for a while. Men today produce as little as half the sperm of their grandfathers, and many are having problems conceiving children naturally while showing lower levels of testosterone.

According to some researchers, if we do nothing, we may be unable to continue propagating our species. Others are more optimistic, citing improved reproductive technology and pointing out that we don’t really need all 200 million sperm cells to fertilize an egg, it was just evolutionary overkill designed to guarantee a high rate of pregnancies. But the fact that both agree that we could be looking at a world in which sex no longer leads to more humans in a significant number of cases where that’s exactly what was intended, is worrying in and of itself. A species that can’t reproduce without assistive technology is almost inevitably doomed.

The culprits are endocrine disruptors, chemicals that affect hormones and the ability to produce gametes. While at this point you may be asking why we don’t just get rid of them or at least limit them severely, the problem is that these chemicals are in virtually everything. Plastics, cleaners, medication, lubricants, and even many foods contain BPAs and phthalates, the two main types of disruptors that worry scientists. And since these chemicals are found in hundreds of billions of dollars worth of products worldwide, companies that create and use them aren’t exactly thrilled at the prospect of rethinking their manufacturing processes.

In part, their reluctance is understandable. Sometimes, efforts to replace one troublesome chemical resulted in substitutes just as bad, if not worse. No one really knows what to do while a safer alternative is found. On the other hand, consider that many owners and large investors in these companies are in their golden years, have had their children, and are using their money to perpetuate a legislative gerontocracy that really does not care what happens after they’re gone. So what if their grandkids will struggle to have kids on their own? It’s not their problem, they got theirs, then put their lifestyles with its feats of tax cuts, and government benefits on their kids’ credit cards, and won’t be around when the bill comes.

This may in part be why sites ran by chemical companies downplay, if not outright dismiss the research pointing to their products having a role in lowering sperm counts for men across the world using launguage like this…

The website for the American Chemistry Council, an industry trade association, has a page dedicated to phthalates that mostly consists of calling Shanna Swan’s research “controversial” and asserting that her “use of methodologies that have not been validated and unconventional data analysis have been criticized by the scientific community.”

Of course it’s worth noting that scientists who disagreed with especially damning research were often on the payroll of companies like DuPont, Dow, and 3M, seizing on disparities in statistics between different studies and ignoring the fact that they all broadly agreed that something was indeed amiss and BPAs and phthalates could be responsible. And while it may take a while to find safer alternatives, there’s no regulation or even incentive to develop them and neither the EPA or Congress seem in a rush to address this problem. Lawmakers and regulators may not be aware of the scope and severity of the problem, and the industry seems to be doing its best to keep the science seem very complicated and still in progress.

It seems nothing can yank our elders from their conspiracy theories about immigrants, rants about the horrors of demographic changes, and demands for even more tax cuts, and get them to care about the real problems we face in the current century: rampant, unguided automation without investing in the human workforce, antibiotic resistance, unsustainable farming practices, and runaway pollution. They’ll simply deny these problems are real, and if they can’t do that, argue about how much they should be asked to do to help solve them.

And if something as primal as the thought of their great-grandkids being the end of the line for their families thanks to their greed and myopia doesn’t shake them out of their avarice-induced trance, it’s hard to know what will.

# health // pollution / reproduction / sex


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