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Boys Are Becoming Girls: Cause for Alarm or Old News?

October 26, 2009 08:25 PM
by James Sullivan
A Danish report on the level of contact that 2-year-old children in the developed world have with feminizing chemicals has been met with shock and concern by some, and frustration by those that say this is a new take on old news.

Chemical Exposure, Government Ineptitude

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The Danish Environmental Protection Agency’s 326-page report explains that contact with endocrine disrupting chemicals is reducing sperm counts and “feminising male children” in developed countries around the world. The report also discusses how government measures to control such pollutants are failing to protect populations.

The full text of the Danish report, “Survey and Health Assessment of the exposure of 2 year-olds to chemical substances in Consumer Products,” is available online via the Danish Environmental Protection Agency.

The study’s revelations shocked many readers, but others saw it as just the latest in a string of reports about the feminization of young boys around the world.

Background: Other studies of male feminization

The male gender is in danger, with incalculable consequences for both humans and wildlife, startling scientific research from around the world reveals,” The Independent reported in December 2008.

The scientific research referred to was a report published by CHEMTrust that drew from more than 250 scientific studies indicating that unregulated chemicals released into the environment were causing male animals and humans to take on feminine characteristics.

The full report of the CHEMTrust study, “Effects of Pollutants on the Reproductive Health of Male Vertebrate Wildlife—Males Under Threat,” is available on the organization’s Web site. It emphasizes that the study, which focuses primarily on animals, is also relevant for humans, because “[a]ll vertebrates have similar sex hormone receptors.” As a result, the feminization of other animals could indicate a similar pattern in humans. The study also lists the symptoms found in each of numerous species tested, some of which include testicular cancer.

A study led by the Center for Reproductive Epidemiology at the University of Rochester last year examined baby boys from three different regions of the United States whose mothers had been exposed to substances containing phthalates, one type of endocrine-disrupting chemical included in the Danish study. Researchers tested expectant mothers for the presence of these chemicals in their urine. Mothers with higher levels of the chemical tended to give birth to baby boys with smaller penises, and in some cases, incompletely descended testicles.

In 2008, a study of 10,000 healthy men conducted by Fabrizio Menchini Fabris of Pisa University found that today, Italian men average 60 million spermatozoa per millimeter, compared with 71 million during the 1970s. 



Fabris also found that today, fewer than 30 percent of the sperm are “active” in Italian men, but 50 percent were active in the 1970s. Taken together, these numbers mean that Italian men today have 50 percent fewer active sperm than they did 30 years ago.

An even older study by Erasmus University in the Netherlands found that children exposed to PCBs and dioxins in the womb were more likely to play with dolls than other traditional boy toys.

Reference: Understanding “gender-bending” chemicals

The documented threat that certain chemicals pose to the male population has spawned government research initiatives around the world into the nature of the problem, and possible solutions.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, offers an information page on endocrine disruptors, also known as “gender-benders.” Find an overview of the chemicals along with extensive PDF resources, and links to clinical trials and descriptions of the steps the NIEHS is taking to regulate them.

For a basic overview of the endocrine system and endocrine disruptors, visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site.

The European Union also offers its citizens an information page about endocrine disruptors. Visit this page for information about E.U. policies regarding chemical regulation and health strategies, as well as for information on E.U.-funded research projects.
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