In some European countries, one in five boys has such a low sperm count that he may have difficulty fathering a child. One reason may be that male hormones are being disturbed by exposure to environmental chemicals, including the so-called “gender bending” hormone disruptors. Around one in six couples in the UK today will struggle to conceive a baby. In France, sperm counts are estimated to have fallen by a third over a period of only 16 years. Dramatic declines have also been reported in Spain.
Some wildlife and experimental animal studies suggest that penile malformations (hypospadias), undescended testes (cryptorchidism), low sperm counts and testicular cancer (testicular dysgenesis syndrome) are induced by, or associated with, fetal exposure to certain environmental chemicals.
One important study shows that exposure to phthalates (a group of suspected endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) used in flexible plastic) in pregnancy is associated with a genital defect in baby boys, namely cryptorchidism (undescended testicles). In animal studies the association has been made between prenatal and early-life exposures to bisphenol A (BPA) and permanent reproductive changes and increased risks of later reproductive health problems, such as infertility.
Another group of suspected EDCs, perfluorinated chemicals, which are commonly used in water, stain-proof and non-stick products, may also negatively affect reproductive health. The authors of the recent World Health Organization’s report on endocrine disrupting chemicals confirm concerns based on the existing body of research. They conclude that evidence from animal and human models suggests that infertility is induced by exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals during development.