At first, this domestic scene suggests the cozy comforts of home. However, at second glance unsettling details emerge: the exotic flowers in the vase are images of human endocrine glands; the dishes and apple are crocheted dry cleaning bags; the place mats are a photographic patchwork of human eggs and pituitary tissue; the plastic table cloth and curtains (salvaged from supermarkets) is patterned with chemical diagrams of pesticides. Once decoded, this domestic tableau points to a largely unrecognized problem that threatens our intelligence, fertility and long-term survival: endocrine disruptors.
Recent research reveals a dangerous and previously unsuspected relationship between chemicals commonly used today and the hormonal systems of humans and animals. These chemicals are used on food crops, to prepare and package our food, and for many other domestic purposes.
Pesticides, herbicides, papers and plastics, dry-cleaning solvents, and household cleaning materials and detergents often contain chemicals that disrupt human hormonesBthe chemically active components of our endocrine systems that control our vital daily metabolic processes. Our reproductive, digestive, immune, and neurological systems are all potentially affected.
Researchers investigating the global die-off and reproductive mutations in frog and fish populations were the first to discover the interaction between these chemical endocrine disruptors and hormonesBboth human and animal. The scientists researching these disturbing trends find that these chemicals, now found in our rain, air, water and soil, are responsible for the disruption of the hormone messages that direct the formation of normal fetuses. Many scientists believe that chemicals from agricultural production and other sources are contributing to the rapid declines in frog, fish, reptile, marine mammal, and bird populations in the USA and around the globe.
Thirty years ago Rachel Carson wrote that the fate of humans is linked the fate of animals. Are we showing signs of sharing the fate of the frogs and other afflicted creatures? Yes. Rates of birth defects, cleft palates, penile deformities, and abnormalities of the intestinal wall are rising. Rates of testicular cancer, breast cancer, neurological deficits in children are rising. These effects are believed to be related to exposure to endocrine disruptors.
The effect of endocrine disruptors, many of which mimic our sex hormones, may be having especially detrimental effects on our reproductive health. In a thriving population the ration of female to male births is stable. In humans, 48% of births are female and 52% are male. The percentage of males being born is dropping in the U.S. A., Canada and Japan. All human fetuses begin as female, then a great hormonal surge transforms the individuals that become male. Some scientists believe endocrine disruptors are interfering with this process. In a related concern, human fertility, as measured by sperm counts, is dropping, some studies show a 50% drop and a trend of a 1% decrease per year. This information puts at question to what extent our own children's fertility will be imperiled.
This new information helps us realize that the choices we make as consumers each day and as voters each year are more important than ever. To reduce your contribution to this dangerous situation and your personal exposure try to: buy organic food and make your own gardens, yards and homes organic. Reduce your own use of pesticides, herbicides, plastics and dry cleaning. Choose less toxic cleaning agents for your home and for your personal hygiene.
The future is in our hands each day.
For further information see:
Our Stolen Future, T. Colburn, Penguin Books
The Center for Bioenvironmental Research of Tulane and Xavier Universities