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Human sperm counts have fallen over 50% in the last 50 years. Abnormal sperm cells are increasing. Toxic chemicals in the environment are to blame.


A systematic analysis of research on sperm counts in humans that was published in 2017 showed that there had been a 59 percent reduction in total sperm counts over the period 1973-2011. The drop in counts was consistent and steady over the 38-year period that data had been collected and was analyzed. This information was reported in the Human Reproduction Update for November-December 2017 published by Oxford Academic Press. In the last ten years the total sperm count in humans has continued to fall unabated.

Little attention was given to this information as the research on sperm counts had been inconsistent and inconclusive for many years. This systematic analysis was the first to show clear, consistent reductions over time associated with increased abnormalities in sperm structure and motility. A book that was published this week describes the current state of research and its dismal implications that are finally clear and convincing.

There are many other signs of deleterious effects of toxic chemicals in our environment, including: the unusual appearance of intersex characteristics among many animal species, including unusually small penises in some species, and individuals with both male and female organs in other species.

A New York Times opinion piece by Nicholas Kristof on February 20 describes the new attention to this research:

Now [Shanna H.] Swan, an epidemiologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, has written a book, “Count Down,” that will be published on Tuesday and sounds a warning bell. Her subtitle is blunt: “How our modern world is threatening sperm counts, altering male and female reproductive development, and imperiling the future of the human race.”

Swan and other experts say the problem is a class of chemicals called endocrine disruptors, which mimic the body’s hormones and thus fool our cells. This is a particular problem for fetuses as they sexually differentiate early in pregnancy. Endocrine disruptors can wreak reproductive havoc.

These endocrine disruptors are everywhere: plastics, shampoos, cosmetics, cushions, pesticides, canned foods and A.T.M. receipts. They often aren’t on labels and can be difficult to avoid.

These chemicals are ubiquitous because they are extremely useful for many purposes, readily made from petroleum derivatives, and cheap. But they have not been tested for toxicity consistently. The companies that created and continue to produce these chemicals have prevented large-scale testing of synthetic organic compounds because they superficially appear to be safe and the testing is expensive.

The toxic nature of these chemicals has not been widely appreciated, but there have been recent changes. Research on known endocrine disrupters has revealed the widespread damage they are causing to every multicellular species on Earth.

The chemical companies are trying to prevent further research and regulation of endocrine disrupters because they are making good profits on producing them and don’t want to have this profit line disrupted. In a way, these companies are like the tobacco companies were in the 1960’s: they are powerful, popular, and they support politicians regardless of party. As a result, the US government has not properly evaluated or regulated them.

Now it is past time to study and control these chemicals. There are thousands of them currently produced, and some are potent disrupters of many physiological functions, not just reproduction. Screening of these chemicals and more intensive study of those that appear to be potent toxins is an urgent matter.

The way to regulate chemicals properly is to have a federal government agency sponsor and collate research on them. This must be followed by effective regulation to reduce human and animal exposure to chemicals. especially the more potent ones.

If we do not start the work of research on synthetic organic chemicals now, the effects in 50 or 100 years will be extreme and unknowable. We cannot allow poisons that disrupt normal cellular functions to be dumped into the environment without proper regulation and control.

The problem of inadequate regulation is pervasive in this country, and it is primarily due to the ability of large companies with big profits to control politics. The Supreme Court decisions that allow big money to influence politics has perverted the purpose of government. Contributions by companies and rich individuals to political parties and politicians have made them beholden to private interests instead of the public interest.

The solution for this problem is better separation of big money from politics. Corporations must not be allowed to contribute to political people or causes. Contributions by individuals must be publicly known and limited to reasonable amounts of money. The current contribution limits are somewhat reasonable. But they are easily circumvented by the use of political action committees (PAC’s) and other gimmicks that allow companies to contribute and allow individuals to anonymously donate vast quantities of money to their favorite causes and people.

The classic example is the tobacco companies’ campaign of lies, subversion, and intimidation that suppressed publicity about the malign effects of tobacco products and prevented effective regulations. This playbook has been followed by every other large company with a questionable product. Fossil fuel companies have used the same techniques, ever since they discovered in the late 1960s through internal research that continuing to burn fuels for energy and transportation would lead to disastrous climate change within a hundred years.

Drug companies that made opioids used the same techniques and brought on a pandemic of overuse of addictive prescription pain killers followed by conversion to heroin use and eventual suicide or drug overdose after vanishing personal productivity and intimate tragedy.

Ubiquitous contamination of the environment by synthetic organic chemicals that produce endocrine disruption, falling sperm counts, infertility, and abnormal sex organs is a result of willful ignorance by companies that produce these chemicals. The companies were aided and abetted in their failure to adequately research the side effects of these chemicals due to lax regulation of chemical production by government agencies. Inadequate regulation was allowed by the malign influence of company money on political systems, particularly in the United States.

Companies that make large profits by production of toxic chemicals have used some of their profits to influence government. By controlling politician responses to publicity about toxic effects of chemicals, they have been able to avoid effective regulation and control of their behavior. The end result has been the conservative dream: privatize profits and socialize costs. “Externalities” have been allowed to wreak havoc on the people while “internalities” have been used to raise stock prices.

(image of sperm and egg cell by Thomas Breyer via

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