Saturday, May 3, 2008

Plastic, chemicals and declining fertility rates: what, me worry?

Back in the early 80's I wrote an article for the Valley Advocate on the decline in sperm count in American men. I can't find it now but what sticks in my mind is that 20 million/mL was now considered within normal range whereas only thirty years before, 80 million/mL was normal. I remember that the chemical dioxin figured prominently as a suspect.

In 1996, Michael Castleman at Mother Jones magazine was bewailing the fact that fourteen years after NBC canceled an interview with the author because the story just wasn't firm enough, declining sperm rates still hadn't cracked prime time.

The silence is still deafening in 2008. We're starting to get the global picture, and we think about our bodies in terms of health, but don't think about declining sperm count unless we're actually trying to have a baby. Talk about a "silent epidemic."

The number of toxic chemicals found in semen and the rest of our bodies is quite astounding. The latest chemical to draw public attention is bisphenol A, a chemical used in the manufacture of hard plastic, including plastic baby bottles. Last week CVS, Walmart and other companies announced that by next year, all such bottles would be off their shelves and replaced with a different (presumably safer) type. Canada intends to ban all bottles with the chemical in 60 days unless evidence can be produced that the chemical is harmless. (Canada is using the Precautionary Principle to make its decision, which manufacturers of the bottles say is unfair. Here's the definition from Wikipedia:
The precautionary principle is a moral and political principle which states that if an action or policy might cause severe or irreversible harm to the public, in the absence of a scientific consensus that harm would not ensue, the burden of proof falls on those who would advocate taking the action.[1] It aims to provide guidance for protecting public health and the environment in the face of uncertain risks, stating that the absence of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason to postpone measures where there is a risk of serious or irreversible harm to public health or the environment.)
93% of the U.S. population has bisphenol A in their bodies, according to a recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some years ago I remember reading that after a while, plastic milk bottles become permeated with fat from the milk. And where do those plastic molecules go, pray tell?

While we're working on the policy issues that affect our well-being, what can we do on a personal level? (Yes, it's still worth it.)

Don't heat food in the microwave using a plastic container. Don't store liquid food, especially acid or fatty foods in plastic. (Come on, hasn't some part of you always known it was a bad thing to do?) In the supermarket, look for foods stored in glass and hang on to the containers later for other uses. Because people don't cook much anymore, secondhand stores usually have plenty of great bakeware with lids, tall glass jars and other dishware for which you'd hesitate to pay full price.

Whatever control over our local environment that we can take, we must.

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