By Alice Shabecoff
Declining sperm count? Forget about it, declares the Science section of The New York Times.
Until this news blast, a great barrage of scientific studies, mostly from the U.S. and Denmark, had warned about a broad pattern of male reproductive troubles. Studies concluded that sperm counts fell by nearly half between 1938 and 1990. Other data tracked a worldwide decline in the ratio of male to female births since 1950. Boys have increasingly been found to suffer from a complex of genital abnormalities, from a deformity of the penis to undersize and undescended testicles, as well as rising rates of testicular cancer. Tests have shown lower sperm quality in the agricultural Midwest. Couples are experiencing more and more trouble conceiving.
Scientists have repeatedly suggested that these troubles arise from the sharp rise over the past two generations of environmental toxins that saturate our everyday lives, especially those chemicals that disrupt our hormones (generally called “endocrine disruptors”), from pesticides on our strawberries to BPA (bisphenol-A) in our baby bottles.
Yet, in June this year, as the NY Times section reported, Danish researchers’ data appeared on a Danish website showing no evidence of sperm count decline during the past 15 years.
Seizing upon this data, one media outlet to the next, and one industry spokesperson to the other, have declared, ‘AHAH, we told you, there’s nothing wrong with pesticides or BPA or other such chemicals.’
But wait. The new data did not contradict the fact that sperm counts are low. Indeed, the data confirms very low sperm counts in young Danish men, so low that many are likely to have impaired fecundity. The data just inferred that, perhaps, the count is not falling further. As Dr. Shanna Swan, one of the leading U.S. researchers in this field points out, “one would not expect any trend to continue indefinitely (particularly something so critical for species survival). Of course they must level off at some point.” And, as Dr John Peterson Myers, founder of Environmental Health Science, adds, “Public health measures were implemented in Denmark during those past years in response to the poor condition of Danish sperm” –another potential clue to why there was no further decline.