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Household chemicals could threaten male reproductive health

17 May 2009
Appeared in BioNews 508

A report written by leading reproductive biologist Professor Richard Sharpe from the Medical Research Council in Edinburgh, UK, has called attention to the dangers of chemicals present in household consumer products.

The report concludes that exposure to a cocktail of hormone disrupting chemicals in our environment, particularly for pregnant women, could account for the increasing levels of genital defects and reproductive health problems in males. These conditions are collectively known as Testicular Dysgenesis Syndrome (TDS), and include un-descended testicles, malformation of the penis, low sperm counts compared to previous generation, and testicular cancer.

Scientists think that TDS begins during development in the womb. Normal formation of the penis and development of the testicles requires testosterone and so chemicals that block its action could hinder normal genital development in baby boys.

The report findings are based on animal studies that have shown conclusively that TDS-like conditions can be caused by hormone disrupting chemicals. Although the evidence in humans is weaker, it still shows a link between chemicals in our environment and male infertility.

Professor Sharpe said 'Because it is the summation of effect of hormone disrupting chemicals that is critical, and the number of such chemicals that humans are exposed to is considerable, this provides the strongest possible incentive to minimise human exposure to all the relevant hormone disruptors, especially women planning pregnancy'.

The report was commissioned by CHEM trust, which is a charity working for the protection of humans and wildlife against harmful chemicals. Elizabeth Salter Green, CHEM trust director said 'Chemicals that have been shown to act together to affect male reproductive health should have their risks assessed together. Currently that is not the case, and unfortunately chemicals are looked at on an individual basis'.

She adds, 'it is high time that public health policy is based on good science and that regulatory authorities have health protection, rather than industry protection, uppermost in mind'.

Hormone disrupting chemicals have been linked to impaired male fertility before, when they were found to block the action of testosterone and feminise male fish in British rivers. The chemicals in question include phthalates, which are found in vinyl flooring and plastics, Bisphenol A, which is found in babies' bottles, food can linings and computers, and certain parabens and pesticides.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Chemical Cocktail in Consumer Products Threatens Baby Boys and Men's Reproductive Health
Chem Trust |  13 May 2009
Chemical cocktail 'risk to boys'
BBC News Online |  13 May 2009
Gender-bending chemicals put baby boys at risk of cancer and infertility, report finds
The Daily Telegraph |  13 May 2009
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