Falling sperm counts, rising infertility, and genital abnormalities in babies could all result from exposure to hazardous man-made chemicals used in perfumes, carpets, electronics, clothing, and a host of other consumer goods, a new Greenpeace report reveals.
Fragile: Our reproductive health and chemical exposure reviews collated evidence from peer-reviewed scientific studies undertaken in the past several years and establishes the link between the decline in human reproductive health and our exposure to hazardous chemicals. Together, the studies show for the first time a comprehensive picture of an increase in reproductive health disorders, mirroring the rising presence in our lives of man-made chemicals.
Around 100,000 different man-made chemicals are produced every year, tens of thousands of which did not exist until a few decades ago. Some of these are hazardous and can be found in ordinary, everyday products ranging from perfumes to carpets, and even electronic products such as computers and mobile phones, which, during production and when recycled or disposed of as electronic waste, release toxic chemicals and heavy metals into the surrounding environment.
Among the reproductive disorders cited in the report are: falling sperm counts by an estimated 50% in 50 years, an 8% rise in infertility among couples in industrialised countries since the 1960s, the significant increase in cases of testicular cancer, a dramatic change in the male-female birth ratio, and an increasing incidence of birth defects in the reproductive systems of infant males.
Many of the disorders which have been increasing in incidence are thought to originate in the developing stages of the child's life in the womb or shortly after birth. At the same time, tests have shown that exposure to some commonly used chemicals which may affect fertility takes effect almost from the moment a child is conceived. Among the chemicals concerned are alkylphenols, phthalates, brominated flame retardants, organotin compounds, bisphenol-A and artificial musks. However, these chemicals, used as examples in this report, represent only a fraction of the problem. Most chemicals on the market have never been tested for their safety for human health or the environment, yet many are routinely used in products found on supermarket shelves and in our bathroom cabinets.
"Greenpeace is calling for any chemical that can potentially harm humans in this way to be removed from use wherever a safer alternative is available," said Dr David Santillo of Greenpeace International's Science Unit, one of the report's authors.