[Pharmwaste] It's official: Men really are the weaker sex

DeBiasi,Deborah dldebiasi at deq.virginia.gov
Wed Dec 10 13:46:38 EST 2008


It's official: Men really are the weaker sex

Evolution is being distorted by pollution, which damages genitals and
the ability to father offspring, says new study. Geoffrey Lean reports

Sunday, 7 December 2008
The male gender is in danger, with incalculable consequences for both
humans and wildlife, startling scientific research from around the world

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 genitals.

"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 them. 

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 effects.

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

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

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. 

Deborah L. DeBiasi
Email:   dldebiasi at deq.virginia.gov
WEB site address:  www.deq.virginia.gov
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
Office of Water Permit Programs
Industrial Pretreatment/Toxics Management Program
PPCPs, EDCs, and Microconstituents
Mail:          P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, VA  23218 (NEW!)
Location:  629 E. Main Street, Richmond, VA  23219
PH:         804-698-4028
FAX:      804-698-4032

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