13. The Specter of Sterility
British Medical Journal, B.M.A. House, Tavistock Square London WCIH 9JR England,
Date: 9/12/92, Title: "Evidence for Decreasing Quality of Semen During Past
50 Years," Author: Niels E. Skakkebaek; New York Times, 229 W. 43rd Street,
New York, NY 10036, Date: 1/1/91, Title: "Research on Birth Defects Turns
to Flaws in Sperm," Author: Sandra Blakeslee; USA Today, 1000 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA 22229 Date: 3/8/92, Title: "Sperm Count Slid"; San Francisco
Examiner, 110 Fifth Street, San Francisco, CA 94103, Date: 9/11/92, Title: "Scientists
Note Dramatic Decline in Sperm Count," Author: Steve Connor
Researcher: Valerie Quigley
SYNOPSIS: Picture this: Civilization as we know it today, destroyed
-- not by nuclear holocaust nor by fouling our environment, but by the
inability to produce children.
A new study, published in the British
Medical Journal, by a Danish research team, details a drastic decline in the volume
of ejaculations and the concentration of sperm within them. This review of available
studies shows sperm density halved and semen quantity decreased by nearly 25 percent
The Danish team leader, Professor Niels E. Skakkebaek, said
he could not give a firm explanation for the decline, but there were signs the
results of toxin buildups in the environment were disrupting the function of the
testes. The implications of these findings are that more and more Western men
are incapable of fathering children.
This issue was first nominated as a
Project Censored story in 1978 because of reports of sterility among workers at
a chemical plant in Lathrop, CA. After investigating, the EPA suggested that chemicals
similar to DBCP "have worked their way up through the food chain and are
finally poisoning man." Dr. Kenneth Bridbord surmised the declining birth
rates in the Fifties and Sixties may have been caused by the effects of toxins
on male fertility. According to the more recent Danish study, a corresponding
dramatic increase in male genitourinary abnormalities and testicular cancer supports
the theory that environmental factors are to blame for the declines in sperm counts.
pollution doesn't only affect human fertility. In a study by the International
Joint Commission (IJC), animals living in the Great Lakes basin were found to
be exhibiting abnormalities in sexual functions-including a blurring of male and
female reproductive roles and genitals decreasing in size. The researchers blamed
substances such as dioxins, lead and PCBs, which disrupt the animals' endocrine
systems that produce hormones governing behavior, growth and sexual development.
In one conclusion, the IJC report said contaminant levels in humans are approaching
the same levels that have caused adverse effects in wildlife populations. "Most
troubling is the experts' conclusions that humans are being affected as well,"
states the report.
And even if fertility is not affected, the resulting
children might be. A study by Dr. Devra Lee Davis, a scholar at the National Academy
of Sciences, found that certain genetic mutations or other alterations in sperm
can lead to permanent defects in children. Sperm is now known to be vulnerable
to toxins, and can produce familiar birth defects like heart abnormalities and
mental retardation, as well as lesser known sperm-caused defects.
an important story when first cited by Project Censored in 1978; 14 years have
passed without major media attention. New studies now confirm that this is not
an issue that is going to go away and is one that deserves to be put on the national
COMMENTS: Sandra Blakeslee, science writer for the New York
Times, says that the issue surrounding sperm is under-funded and ignored.
"The problem is not a traditional case of censorship," Blakeslee
says, "but rather it appears to be a cultural bias in medicine.
Research on reproductive medicine generally focuses on women. There's
a stunning ignorance about sperm in our society." Blakeslee, concerned
with the limited coverage given an issue as important as this, says
she definitely plans to write more on the subject.
Meanwhile, the need for more research and coverage on the issue was
clearly evident some time ago, as noted by Dr. Kenneth Bridbord of the
Office of Extramural Coordination and Special Projects at the National
Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in Washington,
"There is no question in my mind but that
this is a major problem facing the nation. I would not be surprised, based on
the evidence we have looked at so far, to find that the declining sperm count
represents a potential sterility threat to the entire male population. We do not
know the seriousness of the threat at this time, but the DBCP (pesticide) findings
may be just the beginning of it.
"What the government must do is reexamine
everything we know about spermatogenesis and toxicity. If you look at fertility
in America, it shows a decline in the latest Fifties and Sixties which we have
always assumed social and economic changes in American life were responsible for.
But if our worst fears about the effects of toxins on male fertility are true,
it isn't too far a-field to assume that the birth rate dropped then because of
chemical interference with testicular functioning.
"Had we asked the
right kind of questions then, we mightn't be in the fix we're in today."
Dr. Bridbord, issued that dire warning in an article by Raymond M. Lane that appeared
in Esquire Magazine in April 1978. The above statement by Dr. Bridbord was excerpted
from the #7 synopsis of Censored stories of 1978, titled "The Specter of
His warning was clear and ominous: a major problem faced
the nation and we failed to ask the right questions.
But even now, 15 years
later, as Sandra Blakeslee confirms, we are still not asking the right questions.
The primary source for this Censored nomination of 1992 was a major study by Danish
research scientists published in a British medical journal.