by Geoffrey Lean / Daily Mail –
LONDON (January 6, 2004) –- The well-known prediction by T.S. Eliot could almost come true. For it is looking increasingly likely that the world will end not with a bang, but with a wimp. A devastating new scientific study, reported in the Daily Mail yesterday, found that sperm counts in north-east Scotland have slumped by nearly a third in not much more than a decade.
It chimes with mounting evidence of alarming falls from around the world, suggesting that we could slowly be driving ourselves to sterile extinction. More and more, it seems that our own poisoning of the planet is to blame.
Yesterday’s study, by scientists and doctors at the University of Aberdeen and the Aberdeen Maternity Hospital, looked at 7,500 men who attended the city’s Fertility Centre between 1989 and 2002. All had been found to have ‘normal’ sperm counts, producing more than 20 million sperm per milliliter, the level below which infertility begins.
But when looked at more closely, the records showed that the men tested in 2002 had, on average, just 62 million sperm per milliliter, compared to the 87 million recorded 13 years before — a drop of 29 percent.
Of course, there is an obvious flaw. People who go to a fertility clinic are not typical — either they or their partners are likely to be having trouble reproducing. But much the same conclusions come from studies all round the world.
Human Population Could Be Completely Sterile within 50 Years
Research in more than 20 countries shows that average counts have fallen by well over half in the past 50 years, from 150 million per milliliter to 66 million. That means men are now proportionately producing only about two-fifths as much sperm as hamsters, which boast 160 million per milliliter.
More surreal still, tests on young men reveal that they are much less fertile than their fathers. Research in the 1990s showed that men born since 1970 produced a quarter fewer sperm than those born between 1950 and 1970.
Recent European studies have revealed that even late teenagers have remarkably little sperm compared to older men. Dr Richard Sharpe, a senior scientist at the Medical Research Council, wrote in the Mail yesterday: ‘There is reason to suspect that the same is true of young British men.’ And still the fall goes on.
Human Sperm Counts Falling Two Percent Each Year
Scientists expect sperm counts to go on plunging by about two percent a year. At that rate the average man will be unable to father children within decades.
Dr Siladitya Bhattacharya, who led the Aberdeen study, says it is ‘almost impossible’ to say what is causing this alarming slide towards mass sterilisation. But more and more clues point to pollution.
Many of these clues come from nature. One of the first appeared 20 years ago around Britain’s shores, when the shellfish called dogwhelks began to disappear. Scientists seemed to find only male dogwhelks. But when they looked closer, they found many were in fact females, which had grown penises. The new appendages blocked their ovary ducts, stopping them from breeding.
Tributyltin [fluoride], used in antifouling paint on ships’ hulls, was quickly found guilty. But, scandalously, it was not until last June that the world agreed to ban it completely — and then not until 2008. During those years of torpor, more and more wildlife changed sex, mostly from male to female.
Californians were bemused to see ‘gay gulls’ — males nesting together — and even more surprised when they were found to have female egg-laying canals. Researchers on a lake in Florida found that four out of every five alligators were ‘inadequate’ — with tiny penises and female hormone patterns – and that half the turtles in the same waters had become hermaphrodites. Similar bizarre reports have come in concerning species after species, from otters to salmon, terns to bald eagles.
Birds, Reptiles, Fish Undergoing Sex Changes
Worse, British fish began changing sex, sparking an investigation by the Environment Agency. Little over a year ago the research concluded that half of the male fish in the country’s lowland rivers were developing eggs. On some stretches, all were feminized. And the changes were permanent.
The agency blames a particularly potent form of estrogen from the contraceptive pill, which passes straight through sewage works into the rivers. One third of our drinking water comes from rivers, much from below such outfalls.
This was a fairly obvious culprit. But more and more common chemicals are being suspected of interfering with the hormone system by mimicking estrogen or blocking testosterone.
They include PVC, the ubiquitous-plastic; DDT, the infamous pesticide; dioxins, the notorious pollutants found almost everywhere, including in food; PCBs, one-and-a-half million tons of which have been spread around the world in countless uses from paints to plastics; phthalates, compounds found in foods and plastic wrappings; and scores of others.
We, of course, are exposed to them as much as wildlife — if not more so. And evidence is coming in that ‘gender-bender’ chemicals affect people, too.
One study found that Danish organic farmers, who largely eat chemical-free foods, have much higher sperm counts than other men, suggesting pesticides as one possible culprit in the mystery of falling fertility.
Polllution and Children
Much more scarily, recent research at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam has turned up the first solid clues that exposure to dioxins and PCBs is affecting children.
It measured the amount of the chemicals to which boys and girls were exposed in the womb — all were normal, mainly coming from ordinary foods their mothers ate — and then monitored how they played seven-and-a-half years later.
The more boys had been exposed to PCBs, the more they wanted to play with dolls and tea-sets and to dress up in girls’ clothes. The chemicals had the reverse effect on girls, making them want to play with guns and pretend to be soldiers. Dioxins, by contrast, feminised the play of both sexes.
Surely this – on top of all the other evidence – should move the Government to action over hazardous chemicals. But no: Tony Blair has instead recently sabotaged an attempt to tackle them, at the behest — you’ve guessed it — of President Bush.
Last autumn, after years of dithering, the EU finally produced a directive that would have required testing for environmental ill- effects of chemicals already on the market.
President Bush objected — though, as European legislation, it was no business of his. Mr Blair persuaded President Chirac of France and Chancellor Schroeder of Germany to join him in sending an official protest to the EU, and the already weak directive was greatly watered down.
After Iraq and GM crops, this episode will not surprise anyone. But if yesterday’s report from Aberdeen is anything like what it seems, it is likely to prove a greater crime against the future than anything in the Hutton report.