Chemicals found in many food, cosmetic and cleaning products
pose a real threat to male fertility, a leading scientist
Professor Richard Sharpe, of the Medical Research Council,
warned these hormone-disrupting chemicals were "feminising"
boys in the womb.
He linked them to raising rates of birth defects and testicular
cancer and falling sperm counts.
Campaigners called for action to address the problem.
They warned that while exposure to a single chemical may
cause no harm, the cumulative effect could be profound.
Professor Sharpe's report was commissioned by the CHEM
Trust, a charity which 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 concludes 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.
In addition, de-masculinisation effects due to chemical
pollutants in the environment has been reported in many
species of wildlife.
The direct evidence of an effect in humans is so far less
compelling - but is beginning to mount.
Professor Sharpe said: "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, this provides the strongest possible
incentive to minimise human exposure to all relevant hormone
disruptors, especially women planning pregnancy, as it is
obvious that the higher the exposure the greater the risk."
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.
Campaigners say it could be used to reduce exposure to
hormone disrupting chemicals.
Elizabeth Salter Green, CHEM Trust director, said; "Chemicals
that have been shown to act together to affect male reproductive
health should have their risks assessed together.
"Currently that is not the case, and unfortunately
chemicals are looked at on an individual basis.
"Therefore, government assurances that exposures are
too low to have any effect just do not hold water because
regulators do not take into account the additive actions
of hormone disrupting chemicals.
"It is high time that public health policy is based
on good science and that regulatory authorities have health
protection, rather than industry protection, uppermost in
Ms Green advised pregnant women to keep cosmetic use to
a minimum and avoid DIY.
A government spokesperson said the report would be studied
with interest, and that the risks to health of hormone-disrupting
chemicals were regularly reviewed by the Scientific Committee
on the Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products
and the Environment (COT).
"The Food Standards Agency and the Health Protection
Agency are also currently involved in work relevant to this
issue. We will continue to consider any new evidence that
A statement from the COT in 2006 concluded there was no
clear link between data from animal experiments and trends
in humans - but it was an important area for research.