Human Fertility May Be In Danger
The male gender is in danger, with incalculable consequences
for both humans and wildlife, startling scientific research
from around the world reveals.
The research – to be detailed tomorrow in the most comprehensive
report yet published – shows that a host of common chemicals
is feminising males of every class of vertebrate animals, from
fish to mammals, including people.
Backed by some of the world's leading scientists, who say that
it "waves a red flag" for humanity and shows that evolution
itself is being disrupted, the report comes out at a particularly
sensitive time for ministers. On Wednesday, Britain will lead
opposition to proposed new European controls on pesticides,
many of which have been found to have "gender-bending" effects.
It also follows hard on the heels of new American research
which shows that baby boys born to women exposed to widespread
chemicals in pregnancy are born with smaller penises and feminised
"This research shows that the basic male tool kit is under
threat," says Gwynne Lyons, a former government adviser on the
health effects of chemicals, who wrote the report.
Wildlife and people have been exposed to more than 100,000
new chemicals in recent years, and the European Commission has
admitted that 99 per cent of them are not adequately regulated.
There is not even proper safety information on 85 per cent of
Many have been identified as "endocrine disrupters" –
or gender-benders – because they interfere with hormones.
These include phthalates, used in food wrapping, cosmetics and
baby powders among other applications; flame retardants in furniture
and electrical goods; PCBs, a now banned group of substances
still widespread in food and the environment; and many pesticides.
The report – published by the charity CHEMTrust and drawing
on more than 250 scientific studies from around the world –
concentrates mainly on wildlife, identifying effects in species
ranging from the polar bears of the Arctic to the eland of the
South African plains, and from whales in the depths of the oceans
to high-flying falcons and eagles.
It concludes: "Males of species from each of the main classes
of vertebrate animals (including bony fish, amphibians, reptiles,
birds and mammals) have been affected by chemicals in the environment.
"Feminisation of the males of numerous vertebrate species is
now a widespread occurrence. All vertebrates have similar sex
hormone receptors, which have been conserved in evolution. Therefore,
observations in one species may serve to highlight pollution
issues of concern for other vertebrates, including humans."
Fish, it says, are particularly affected by pollutants as they
are immersed in them when they swim in contaminated water, taking
them in not just in their food but through their gills and skin.
They were among the first to show widespread gender-bending
Half the male fish in British lowland rivers have been found
to be developing eggs in their testes; in some stretches all
male roaches have been found to be changing sex in this way.
Female hormones – largely from the contraceptive pills
which pass unaltered through sewage treatment – are partly
responsible, while more than three-quarters of sewage works
have been found also to be discharging demasculinising man-made
chemicals. Feminising effects have now been discovered in a
host of freshwater fish species as far away as Japan and Benin,
in Africa, and in sea fish in the North Sea, the Mediterranean,
Osaka Bay in Japan and Puget Sound on the US west coast.
Research at the University of Florida earlier this year found
that 40 per cent of the male cane toads – a species so
indestructible that it has become a plague in Australia –
had become hermaphrodites in a heavily farmed part of the state,
with another 20 per cent undergoing lesser feminisation. A similar
link between farming and sex changes in northern leopard frogs
has been revealed by Canadian research, adding to suspicions
that pesticides may be to blame.
Male alligators exposed to pesticides in Florida have suffered
from lower testosterone and higher oestrogen levels, abnormal
testes, smaller penises and reproductive failures. Male snapping
turtles have been found with female characteristics in the same
state and around the Great Lakes, where wildlife has been found
to be contaminated with more than 400 different chemicals. Male
herring gulls and peregrine falcons have produced the female
protein used to make egg yolks, while bald eagles have had difficulty
reproducing in areas highly contaminated with chemicals.
Scientists at Cardiff University have found that the brains
of male starlings who ate worms contaminated by female hormones
at a sewage works in south-west England were subtly changed
so that they sang at greater length and with increased virtuosity.
Even more ominously for humanity, mammals have also been found
to be widely affected.
Two-thirds of male Sitka black-tailed deer in Alaska have been
found to have undescended testes and deformed antler growth,
and roughly the same proportion of white-tailed deer in Montana
were discovered to have genital abnormalities.
In South Africa, eland have been revealed to have damaged testicles
while being contaminated by high levels of gender-bender chemicals,
and striped mice from one polluted nature reserved were discovered
to be producing no sperm at all.
At the other end of the world, hermaphrodite polar bears –
with penises and vaginas – have been discovered and gender-benders
have been found to reduce sperm counts and penis lengths in
those that remained male. Many of the small, endangered populations
of Florida panthers have been found to have abnormal sperm.
Other research has revealed otters from polluted areas with
smaller testicles and mink exposed to PCBs with shorter penises.
Beluga whales in Canada's St Lawrence estuary and killer whales
off its north-west coast – two of the wildlife populations
most contaminated by PCBs – are reproducing poorly, as
are exposed porpoises, seals and dolphins.
Scientists warned yesterday that the mass of evidence added
up to a grave warning for both wildlife and humans. Professor
Charles Tyler, an expert on endocrine disrupters at the University
of Exeter, says that the evidence in the report "set off alarm
bells". Whole wildlife populations could be at risk, he said,
because their gene pool would be reduced, making them less able
to withstand disease and putting them at risk from hazards such
as global warming.
Dr Pete Myers, chief scientist at Environmental Health Sciences,
one of the world's foremost authorities on gender-bender chemicals,
added: "We have thrown 100, 000 chemicals against a finely balanced
hormone system, so it's not surprising that we are seeing some
serious results. It is leading to the most rapid pace of evolution
in the history of the world.
Professor Lou Gillette of Florida University, one of the most
respected academics in the field, warned that the report waved
"a large red flag" at humanity. He said: "If we are seeing problems
in wildlife, we can be concerned that something similar is happening
to a proportion of human males"
Indeed, new research at the University of Rochester in New
York state shows that boys born to mothers with raised levels
of phthalates were more likely to have smaller penises and undescended
testicles. They also had a shorter distance between their anus
and genitalia, a classic sign of feminisation. And a study at
Rotterdam's Erasmus University showed that boys whose mothers
had been exposed to PCBs grew up wanting to play with dolls
and tea sets rather than with traditionally male toys.
Communities heavily polluted with gender-benders in Canada,
Russia and Italy have given birth to twice as many girls than
boys, which may offer a clue to the reason for a mysterious
shift in sex ratios worldwide. Normally 106 boys are born for
every 100 girls, but the ratio is slipping. It is calculated
that 250,000 babies who would have been boys have been born
as girls instead in the US and Japan alone.
And sperm counts are dropping precipitously. Studies in more
than 20 countries have shown that they have dropped from 150
million per millilitre of sperm fluid to 60 million over 50
years. (Hamsters produce nearly three times as much, at 160
million.) Professor Nil Basu of Michigan University says that
this adds up to "pretty compelling evidence for effects in humans".
But Britain has long sought to water down EU attempts to control
gender-bender chemicals and has been leading opposition to a
new regulation that would ban pesticides shown to have endocrine-disrupting
effects. Almost all the other European countries back it, but
ministers – backed by their counterparts from Ireland
and Romania – are intent on continuing their resistance
at a crucial meeting on Wednesday. They say the regulation would
cause a collapse of agriculture in the UK, but environmentalists
retort that this is nonsense because the regulation has get-out
clauses that could be used by British farmers.