It may be the leading edge of a chemically induced crisis that could make men an endangered species.
On an Indian reserve in Canada, surrounded by dozens of pollution-spewing chemical plants, girls rule the day-care centers, the playgrounds, the sports teams. The reason: For the past 15 years, fewer and fewer boys are being born. Once there was a boys hockey team on the reservation.
No longer. There aren't enough boys.
It is an especially extreme example of a puzzling phenomenon playing out all around the world, in countries as diverse as the United States, Sweden and Japan.
The reserve directly faces Canada's largest concentration of petrochemical plants. About 40% of Canada's synthetic rubber, polyvinyl chloride and plastics is produced here. The area is also home to one of Canada's largest hazardous-waste dumps. Few tourists care to stop in this now-blighted place. Residents have long blamed their health problems on the petrochemical plants that crowds and smells up the landscape. But scant evidence supported their claims—until now.
Scientists turned their attention to the reserve a few years ago, after a study of the tribe's birth records confirmed what tribe members had already sensed: a steady plunge in the number of boys born between 1993 and 2003. In fact, by the end of the study period, two girls had been born for every boy -- one of the steepest declines ever reported in the ratio of boys to girls.
With fewer boys, the community of 850 has had to adjust, although in subtle ways so far. One year, the tribe had enough girls for three baseball teams, but the boys could fill just one team. The boy's hockey team has been disbanded.
"If we had money I would move," says tribe member Lisa Joseph, the mother of four girls and one boy, who range in age from 6 to 15. The domination of girls doesn't stop at her house. One of her sisters has four girls. Another has two girls. The third sister, defying the family trend, has two boys.
"When I was having my kids, so many people seemed to be having girls," Joseph says. "You enjoy what God gives you."
Or perhaps, try not to think about what the chemicals are taking away.
The lost boys of Aamijwnaang might be easy to dismiss as an anomaly if scientists hadn't found a similar trend, not just in all of Canada, but in the United States and other industrialized countries as well.
Several Latin American nations have reported a similar shift in the sex ratio at birth, as have Finland, Norway, Wales and the Netherlands. Late last year, several Arctic communities documented a startling decline in the number of boys being born. Studies have shown changing sex ratios in Italian cities and among fish-eating women in the Great Lakes region. But the steepest sex ratio declines observed in the world have occurred on the 3,000-acre Aamjiwnaang reservation.
The sex ratio is an indicator of population health, and unexpected changes could be an important signal that people are at risk biologically, she said.
Typically, boys outnumber girls at birth. For a long time, the ratio between the sexes has been about 105 boys born for every 100 girls. As the weaker sex -- the one that is more susceptible to genetic defects, diseases, and accidents -- males need that advantage: They die at a greater rate than females at every age. But now, in some places, this birth gap is closing.
In the United States between 1970 and 2002, an estimated 135,000 fewer boys were born than expected, according to a study published in 2007. The international team of researchers who did the study found an even steeper decline in Japan, estimating that 127,000 Japanese boys missed their appointments at the obstetrics ward between 1970 and 1999. Those variations are slight compared with the millions of males born during those years, but the researchers found the decline to be statistically significant and considered it reason for "serious concern."
The study's authors, including Devra Lee Davis, Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh, said they did not know why fewer boys than expected were being born. They mentioned such factors as psychological stress and parents having children at an older ages. But those factors alone could not account for recent declines.
The researchers focused their concerns on industrial chemicals, which now permeate rivers and lakes, farmland soil, air and a multitude of everyday consumer products.
In both cases, a specific class of chemicals is thought to be the culprit as scientists do more and more research. These endocrine disruptors, such as phthalates and bisphenol-A (BPA), are found in plastics and mimic female hormones, thwarting the production of testosterone.
The long-term trend toward fewer boys in the United States and Japan, they said, supported their theory that "males are being culled in some systematic fashion," and they also noted the sharp decline in the number of newborn boys in Aamjiwnaang. The synthetic chemicals may well cause changes at conception, they said, which make it harder for boys to survive.
The ironic thing is that men are the creators and users of many of the industrial chemicals. Are men unknowingly killing themselves off?
Industrial Chemicals Effect on Children
Fetal and early childhood exposures to industrial chemicals in the environment can damage the developing brain and can lead to neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs)—autism, attention deficit disorder (ADHD), and mental retardation.
In a new review study, published online in The Lancet on November 8, 2006, and in an upcoming print issue of The Lancet, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine systematically examined publicly available data on chemical toxicity in order to identify the industrial chemicals that are the most likely to damage the developing brain.
The researchers found that 202 industrial chemicals have the capacity to damage the human brain, and they conclude that chemical pollution may have harmed the brains of millions of children worldwide. The authors conclude further that the toxic effects of industrial chemicals on children have generally been overlooked.
To protect children against industrial chemicals that can injure the developing brain, the researchers urge a precautionary approach for chemical testing and control. Such an approach is beginning to be applied in the European Union. It puts in place strong regulations, which could later be relaxed, if the hazard were less than anticipated, instead of current regulations that require a high level of proof. At present in the U.S., requirements for toxicity testing of chemicals are minimal.
“The human brain is a precious and vulnerable organ. And because optimal brain function depends on the integrity of the organ, even limited damage may have serious consequences,” says Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor at Harvard School of Public Health and the study’s lead author.
One out of every six children has a developmental disability, usually involving the nervous system. Treating NDDs is difficult and costly to both families and society. In recent decades, a gathering amount of evidence has linked industrial chemicals to NDDs. Lead, for example, was the first chemical identified as having toxic effects to early brain development, though its neurotoxicity to adults had been known for centuries.
A developing brain is much more susceptible to the toxic effects of chemicals than an adult brain. During development, the brain undergoes a highly complex series of processes at different stages. An interference—for example, from toxic substances—that disrupts those processes, can have permanent consequences. That vulnerability lasts from fetal development through infancy and childhood to adolescence. Research has shown that environmental toxicants, such as lead or mercury, at low levels of exposure can have subclinical effects—not clinically visible, but still important adverse effects, such as decreases in intelligence or changes in behavior.
Phthalates Effect on Children
In the 21st century, the hormones that determine male and female reproductive function, brain structure and behavior are well characterized, so something that delivers a surfeit of oestrogen sufficient enough to alter normal male physiology is cause for concern.
A class of chemicals ubiquitous to modern manufacturing, known as phthalates, are the latest potential endocrine disrupter gaining attention.
While the extent to which oestrogens in the environment are behind the rise in male infertility is still open to debate, evidence is emerging that phytalates might have far reaching effects on gender and sexual characteristics.
Phthalates are compounds used widely in industry as solvents and to make plastics more pliable.
There are many different kinds and they are found in many manufactured products, including shower curtains, furniture, food wrap, cosmetics, perfumes, medical devices, blood bags – and baby lotions, talc, toys and feeding bottles.
The chemicals are absorbed by the human body and excreted in the usual way in urine and feces, but it is what happens in between that has scientists baffled.
The first human study to raise concerns was published in 2005. It found a highly significant relationship between a mother’s exposure to phthalates during pregnancy and abnormalities in the reproductive tract of her male off-spring.
US epidemiologist Dr Shanna Swan (PhD) and colleagues found in this study that baby boys with high levels of prenatal exposure to phthalates were significantly more likely to have a shortened perineum (a marker of antiandrogenic effect), smaller penises, and a greater risk of having undescended testes.
Last year, in a second study involving 163 babies, the same research group found all participants had at least one phthalate in their urine, and concentrations correlated with mothers’ reported usage of phthalate-containing products such as baby powders and lotions.
Industrial chemicals have been linked to everything from cancer to infertility and in between.
-Studies found 252 chemicals linked to cancer in 160 people tested.
-Incidence of childhood cancers increased by 28% from 1974 to 1998, especially acute lymphoblastic leukemia, central nervous system tumors, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (Woodruff et al. 2007).
-More than 1 in 10 U.S. couples is infertile. The percentage of couples reporting difficulty in getting pregnant or carrying a baby to full term increased by 20% from 1995 to 2002 (Barrett 2006). The increase is highest for women under the age of 25 (Barrett 2006).
-Recent U.S. studies indicate that girls are entering puberty earlier. The age at which girls undergo breast and pubic hair development decreased by 6 to 12 months from the 1960’s to the 1990’s (BCF 2007).
-Analysis of 101 studies (1934-1996) show that average sperm counts in industrialized countries are declining at a rate of about 1 percent each year (Swan et al 2000).
-From 1981 to 2004 the preterm birth rate increased 33%. 1 in 8 babies born in the U.S. is born prematurely, and faces higher risks for cerebral palsy, mental retardation, chronic lung disease, and vision and hearing loss (March of Dimes 2006).
-Birth defects of the male reproductive system have increased in recent decades. The incidence of a penis deformity called hypospadias doubled between 1968 and 1993 and now affects 1 in 125 boys (CDC 2008, Paulozzi 1999). 3% of full-term baby boys are born with undescended testicles and face greater risks for testicular cancer later in life (Dogra 2007, Paulozzi 1999).
-The CDC reports that 1 in 33 babies is born with a major birth defect (CDC 2007a); the cause of 70% of birth defects is unknown (March of Dimes 2006).
-The childhood prevalence of asthma more than doubled from 1980 to 2001, from 3.6% to 9% (EPA 2007). Recent statistics from the American Lung Association suggest that nearly 10% of children ages 5 to 17 suffer from the disease (ALA 2007).
-1 in 15 American children is diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) (Woodruff et al. 2004).
-The incidence of autism increased 10 fold from the 1970’s to the 1990’s (Blaxill 2004). 1 of every 150 children in the U.S. is autistic (CDC 2007b). 60% of children with autism are boys (CDC 2007b).
-Developmental disorders affect 1 in 6 children in the U.S. Most are disorders of the brain and nervous system (Grandjean and Landrigan 2006).
-EWG (Environmental Working Group) testing found 242 chemicals in people linked to brain and nervous system damage.
-Researchers have linked prenatal exposure to bisphenol-A – a near-ubiquitous industrial chemical – with subtle, gender-specific alterations in behavior among two year olds. Girls whose mothers had encountered the most BPA early in pregnancy tended to become somewhat more aggressive than normal, boys became more anxious and withdrawn.
-One in six children has a developmental disorder.
What Can You Do?
Everything plastic especially for children and pregnant women.
Antibacterial products such as soap.
Chemical cleaning products.
Steven R. Schechter, author of Fighting Radiation and Chemical Pollutants suggests certain foods that can help. Some of them being: Sea vegetables, Bee pollen, Garlic, Fermented foods, Chlorophyll and Nutritional yeast. Some helpful herbs are Green tea, Ginseng, and Aloe. Miscellaneous substances to fight chemical polluntants are: Clay, Pectin (found in apples and carrots), Papain (found in papaya), Lecithin (found in peanuts, whole grains and spinach), Cysteine (found in garlic, onions, oats and broccoli) and Nucleic Acids (found in bee pollen, algae and yeast). Vitamins and minerals include: Vitamins A, B complex, C, D, E. Minerals Calcium, Magnesium, Selenium, Potassium, Zinc and Iron. List of DETOX FOODS. I'll add to the list: Cilantro, Dandelion and Chlorella.
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