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Over the past 50 years, sperm counts around the world have declined by over 50%. Environmental and reproductive epidemiologist, Shanna Swan, studies the issue and points to endocrine-disrupting chemicals that she believes play a huge role in fertility problems such as low sperm counts, miscarriages, early onset of menopause, and perhaps even gender issues that seem so much more prevalent than they’ve ever been.

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that, once absorbed into the body, confuse natural hormones and reproductive systems. The most common endocrine disruptors are phthalates, which the Centers for Disease Control says “are in hundreds of products, such as vinyl flooring, lubricating oils, and personal-care products (soaps, shampoos, hair sprays).” Swan, coauthor of Count Down: How Our Modern World is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race also studies the effects of bisphenol A (BPA), medications and pesticides. I was introduced to Swan and her research in an interview that appeared in The Sun Magazine in September 2022.

The changes that Swan has observed and documented also indicate that baby boys are more likely to have undescended testicles and small penises if their mothers were exposed to high levels of phthalates during pregnancy and that in utero phthalate exposure affects the brains of young boys and changes their play behavior.”  

Frankly, I think we should be rejoicing over declining human fertility. I’m beyond believing that the human race deserves this planet. Peering into my glass ball, I see the livable space on earth rapidly declining as oceans rise, while human populations continue to expand and to be pushed into denser communities, a phenomenon which escalate tensions and upends mental health while reducing land available for food production.

More alarming to me than human fertility is the fact that the effects of man-caused endocrine disruptors are not restricted to humanity, but also extend into animal populations that are inadvertently exposed to phthalates through environmental pollution. Not only do our wildlife suffer the affects of climate change, but their fertility is being disrupted by what we urinate and dispose of during our everyday lives.

Cover image by Naomi Stolow