You’ve probably heard some anxiety over whether radiation from cell phones and laptops is lowering sperm count, making men infertile.
While the jury is still out on that one, what you might not have heard is that scientists are discovering that chemicals used in everyday products may contribute to reduced male fertility. Years of research have unveiled a number of chemicals linked to infertility in men.
Epidemiological and laboratory studies have associated certain chemicals, including BPA, certain phthalates, nonylphenol, and the flame retardants tris (1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TDCPP), triphenyl phosphate (TPP), and Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), with male infertility. These chemicals can be found in everything from furniture to laundry detergent to cash register receipts.
Studies on these chemicals reveal that they affect hormonal systems in ways that may lead to reduced sperm count, motility, or quality; result in undescended testicles and deformities of the penis; and contribute to testicular cancer. Other research has shown that such chemicals can cause “feminization” of fish.
A young man's attempt to avoid chemical exposure
Andrew, a 19-year-old college student, read an article about ways to reduce exposure to these toxic chemicals. Not wanting to jeopardize his ability to reproduce, he took the advice to heart. Here’s what he did:
Certain members within the class of chemicals called phthalates can be found in many products, including most products with “fragrance” listed as an ingredient. Andrew decided to stop using air fresheners in his home and in his car. He also asked his mom to switch the household over to unscented laundry detergent.
BPA, a chemical shown to decrease male fertility rates, is often found in the thermal paper used for cash register receipts. Andrew tried to handle sales receipts as little as possible when making store purchases or signing for meals at restaurants. He even used napkins to transfer receipts into his wallet.
Is this really what we're asking of our young men?
Watching Andrew try to sign and put receipts in his wallet without touching them may be slightly humorous, but is this really what we’ve come to?
Andrew made valiant efforts to minimize his contact with chemicals. Sadly, he can’t truly avoid them on his own. When he placed receipts in his wallet using napkins, BPA likely rubbed off the receipts and onto the cash inside. Studies have found that paper money has detectable amounts of BPA on it. Beyond paper receipts, BPA is prevalent in food can linings and polycarbonate plastics. The ubiquity of this chemical is evidenced by its presence in the bodies of over 90% of Americans. Even if Andrew decided never to handle another receipt in his life, he wouldn’t be able to prevent his exposure to BPA.
And his exposure to harmful chemicals doesn’t stop with BPA. Andrew also has to worry about risky substances he might encounter while sitting on the couch at his school’s student center or while walking through air-freshened department stores.
There has to be a better way.
A broken law exposes us all to a chemical free-for-all
Why does Andrew have to worry about all these chemicals he encounters, anyway?
This year marks the 35th anniversary of one of our most inefficient and ineffective laws: The Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA. Enacted in 1976, this law grandfathered in 60,000 existing chemicals without requiring any assessment of their potential health effects. There are now 80,000 chemicals available for use, and new chemicals continue to enter the marketplace without any requirement for basic health and safety data. Of these 80,000 chemicals, the EPA has only been able to require adequate testing of about 200.
We’re putting ourselves and future generations at risk by not requiring chemicals to be properly assessed for safety. How can we stand by and allow more and more potentially unsafe chemicals into everyday products?
Better legislation: The Safe Chemicals Act
The best way to fix this situation is to pass new legislation that reforms TSCA. The Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 would do just that. This fall, Congress is poised to take up the Safe Chemicals Act.
The Safe Chemicals Act would give us much stronger protection against toxic chemicals. Manufacturers would have to show their chemicals are safe in order to stay on or enter the market. The act would require that a chemical’s safety be assessed before it is used in the products you buy.
Andrew’s efforts to change the products his mother uses and pick up receipts with napkins were commendable, but asking anyone to undertake such measures is unreasonable – and they won’t stop his exposure to harmful chemicals. The truth is, he shouldn’t have to worry about toxic exposures in the first place.
Certain industry lobbyists are working hard against the Safe Chemicals Act, but with enough support from concerned voters, it can pass. We need to make sure that only safe chemicals are used in the products we buy.
You can protect your and your loved ones’ health — ask your Senators now to support the Safe Chemicals Act.
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