A report from Professor Richard Sharpe of the Medical Research Council suggests that hormone disrupting chemicals (phthalates found in vinyl flooring, plastics, soaps and toothpaste; bisphenol found in babies’ bottles, food can linings, mobile phones and computers, and pesticides including pyrethroids, linuron, vinclozolin and fenitrothion) may disrupt male development in the womb and pose a real threat to male fertility.
Professor Sharpe's report was commissioned by the CHEM Trust, a charity that works to protect humans and wildlife from harmful chemicals.
There is evidence that male reproductive health is deteriorating, with malformations of the penis becoming more common, rates of testicular cancer rising, and sperm counts falling. It is thought that all these conditions – collectively called Testicular Dysgenesis Syndrome (TDS) – are linked to disruption of the male sex hormone testosterone. Professor Sharpe believes that exposure to a cocktail of hormone-disrupting chemicals in the environment is likely to be at least partly to blame by blocking the action of testosterone in the womb.
His latest report highlights animal studies showing that testosterone-disrupting chemicals can cause TDS-like disorders. De-masculinisation effects due to chemical pollutants in the environment have been reported in many species of wildlife and although the direct evidence of an effect in humans is, so far, less compelling – it is beginning to mount.
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, Professor Sharpe advises the minimum human exposure to all relevant hormone disruptors, especially for women planning pregnancy. New EU chemicals legislation, called REACH (registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals) puts the onus on the chemical industry to prove that its products are safe.
But currently chemicals are looked at on an individual basis so government assurances that exposures are too low to have any effect do not hold water, because regulators do not take into account the additive actions of hormone-disrupting chemicals.
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First Published in Septemver 2009
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