During 1997, accumulating evidence indicated that something is
disrupting normal sexual development and function in humans.
Baby Boys Disappearing
The year began with a report from Canadian researchers that an abnormal
excess of baby girls were born in Canada and the U.S. during the period
1970 to 1990. Normally, about 1057 males are born for every 1000
females for a sex ratio of 0.514, but in Canada and the U.S. after
1970 the number of male babies declined, according to nationwide birth
records in both countries. The reasons for the shifting sex ratio are
In Canada, over the 20 years the cumulative loss was 2.2 males per 1000
live births; in the U.S., the cumulative loss was 1.0 males per 1000
live births. These losses were statistically significant. (In the U.S.
the loss was greatest in the Atlantic coastal region where 5.6 males
were lost for each 1000 live births.) Overall, in Canada during the
period 1970 to 1990, 8639 liveborn males were lost. In the U.S., with
its much larger population (250 million vs. 30 million), the total loss
of liveborn males was 37,840 during the 20 years. The sex ratio can be
affected by many factors including: hormonally induced ovulation,
which tends to produce more females; race (African-American couples
tend to have more females); season of the year (more males born in
summer, more females in winter); timing of fertilization in relation to
the day of ovulation; social class has a small observable effect (in
England, royalty tends to produce males and domestic servants tend to
produce females); war, which tends to produce more males; smoking,
which tends to produce more females; prostate cancer (tends to produce
males); non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in either parent (tends to produce
females); various drugs (some tend to produce males, others females);
toxemia during pregnancy or pre-eclampsia (tends to be associated with
male births); and DBCP (a pesticide used against nematodes) diminishes
sperm count and strongly tends to produce females.
In 1986, William H. James of the Galton Laboratory (University College
London) hypothesized that sex ratio was determined by hormone levels in
the blood of the parents at the time of conception.[3,4] Sex ratio has
been James's research specialty for many years, and he has presented
considerable evidence to support his hypothesis.[5,6,7]
In 1996, a team of Italian and U.S. researchers provided additional
evidence supporting James's hypothesis: the sex ratio of babies born
after the explosion at Seveso, Italy, which spread dioxin over a large
area on July 10, 1976. The researchers studied live births from April
1977 (9 months after the explosion) to December, 1984, among couples
living in the most contaminated area. Of 74 births, only 26 were male
and 48 were female, for a sex ratio of 0.35 instead of the normal
0.514. After 1984 the Seveso sex ratio returned to normal.
Sperm Counts Have Declined
Toward the end of 1997, a re-analysis of sperm counts in the U.S.,
Europe, and the rest of the world concluded that sperm counts among men
in the U.S. and Europe really have declined steadily for 50 years.
In 1992, Elisabeth Carlsen and co-workers had analyzed 61 separate
studies of sperm counts and reported a 50% average decline in sperm
count in Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere over the last 50 years. (See
REHW #343, #369, #372, #432, #446, #448, and #492). Carlesen's study
was criticized from various viewpoints (though not by anyone who had
actually reviewed the 61 studies that formed the basis of the British
report). In 1996 new studies revealed that enormous differences existed
in sperm counts in geographic regions. After that, skeptics concluded
that the whole decline in sperm counts was an artifact of statistical
modeling and had no basis in reality. The NEW YORK TIMES favored the
skeptics, leaving the impression that the whole dispute resulted from
Now Shanna H. Swan, chief of the reproductive epidemiology section of
the California Department of Health Services, has re-examined the
original 61 studies. Swan conducted straightforward statistical
analyses that took account of regional variations (which are, indeed,
large --sperm counts in New York are 131 million sperm per milliliter
vs. 72 million per milliliter in California.) Swan's conclusion:
AVERAGE sperm counts in the U.S. and Europe during the past 50 years
have declined more steeply than the British first reported, but no
decline was found in less-industrialized countries of Asia and Latin
America. In the U.S., sperm counts have declined 1.5% each year and in
Europe the annual decline has been twice as great. Dr. Swan's study was
published in ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH PERSPECTIVES (a U.S. government
scientific journal) in November. Swan told the LOS ANGELES DAILY
NEWS, "My hope is, this study will change the question of concern from
if there is a decline, to why there is a decline. I think it's time we
looked at that." (The NEW YORK TIMES has so far ignored Dr. Swan's
In the early 1980s, researchers with U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency identified 16 industrial chemicals that reduce sperm counts.
In 1995, European researchers showed that common industrial chemicals
widely present in U.S. foods (because of contact with plastics) cause
reductions in size of testicles and diminished sperm counts in exposed
Male Genital Defects Increasing
In late 1997, researchers with the federal centers for Disease Control
and Prevention in Atlanta reported that the occurrence of hypospadias
doubled in the U.S. between 1968 and 1993. Hypospadias is a birth
defect of the penis. Nine to 12 weeks after conception, as a male grows
inside the womb, the penis develops a channel for urine, called the
urethra; hypospadias is a birth defect in which the urethra does not
close but remains open for a certain distance on the underside of the
penis, sometimes all the way to the scrotum. Typically, hypospadias is
The new hypospadias data were gathered from two separate surveillance
systems, the Metropolitan Atlanta Congenital Defects Program, and the
Nationwide Birth Defects Monitoring Program. The researchers found
that, not only did hypospadias double during the 25-year period, but
the most serious forms of the defect increased faster than the average.
They concluded that the increases are unlikely to result from improved
sensitivity of the surveillance systems. They could not rule out the
possibility that the increases resulted from better identification of
mild cases by physicians; however, they noted that this explanation
should have increased the number of mild cases compared to severe cases
when, in fact, their data showed the opposite trend.
Hypospadias has been reported increasing in England and Wales, Hungary,
Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, but most recently the trend has leveled
off in England, Sweden, and Hungary.
Our good friend Pat Costner, a chemist with Greenpeace International,
points out that hypospadias is considered a form of hermaphroditism --a
person having both male and female reproductive organs.
Consider these trends: cancers of the reproductive system (prostate,
testicles, ovaries, endometrium and female breast) account for 30% of
all cancers, and are increasing in many countries; ectopic
pregnancies increased nearly fourfold in the U.S., 1970-1987; in
many countries, the incidence of undescended testicles is increasing;
 and now these 1997 studies reveal declining sperm, increasing
hypospadias, and disappearing baby boys. Together, they suggest a
picture of something going terribly wrong with human sexual development
All of these aspects of human sexuality share one common feature: all
are strongly influenced by hormones. Therefore, many researchers have
suggested that industrial chemicals that interfere with hormones may be
One thing is certain: the chemical industry is conducting a large-scale
experiment on humanity. Does this experiment --conducted without our
informed consent --not violate the principles established at Nuremburg
after World War II? Does this experiment not violate the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, which the United States signed in
Students of government, politics, administration, environmental
studies, gender studies, racial studies, chemistry, engineering,
philosophy, humanities, history, ethics, business, anthropology,
sociology, and law (among other relevant fields of study) might do well
to debate one question: where did the chemical industry obtain the
right to put us in the position we all now find ourselves in: forced to
wonder, "Is our children's health and future being take from them as
they are slowly poisoned?"
It seems reasonable and prudent to be asking, "Where did chemical
corporations obtain the right to do these things?" A national debate on
that subject seems long overdue. In 1997, we inched forward toward that
--Peter Montague (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)
 Bruce B. Allan and others, "Declining sex ratios in Canada,"
CANADIAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION JOURNAL Vol. 156, No. 1 (January 1, 1997),
 See, for example, William H. James, "The Human Sex Ratio. Part 1: A
Review of the Literature," HUMAN BIOLOGY Vol. 59, No. 5 (October 1987),
 William H. James, "Hormonal control of sex ratio," JOURNAL OF
THEORETICAL BIOLOGY Vol. 118, No. 4 (February 21, 1986), pgs. 427-441.
 William H. James, "Male reproductive hazards and occupation,"
LANCET Vol. 347 (March 16, 1996), pg. 773.
 "Re: 'Total Serum Testosterone and Gonadotropins in Workers Exposed
to Dioxin,'" AMERICAN JOURNAL OF EPIDEMIOLOGY Vol. 141, No. 5 (1995),
 William H. James, "Parental hormone levels and mammalian sex ratio
at birth," JOURNAL OF THEORETICAL BIOLOGY Vol. 139, No. 1 (July 10,
1989), pgs. 59-67.
 William H. James, "The hypothesized hormonal control of human sex
ratio at birth--an update," JOURNAL OF THEORETICAL BIOLOGY Vol. 143,
No. 4 (April 23, 1990), pgs. 555-564. And: William H. James, "The
Hypothesized hormonal control of mammalian sex ratio at birth--a second
update," JOURNAL OF THEORETICAL BIOLOGY Vol. 155, No. 1 (march 7,
1992), pgs. 121-128. And: William H. James, "Evidence that mammalian
sex ratios at birth are partially controlled by parental hormone levels
at the time of conception," JOURNAL OF THEORETICAL BIOLOGY Vol. 180,
No. 4 (June 21, 1996), pgs. 271-286. And: William H. James,
"Reproductive Effects of Male Dioxin Exposure," ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
PERSPECTIVES Vol. 105, No. 2 (February 1997), pgs. 162-162.
 Paolo Mocarelli and others, "Change in sex ratio with exposure to
dioxin," LANCET Vol. 348 (August 10, 1996), pg. 409.
 Shanna H. Swan and others, "Have sperm densities declined? A
reanalysis of global trend data," ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH PERSPECTIVES
Vol. 105 (1997), pgs. 1228-1232.
 Gina Kolata, "Sperm Counts: Some Experts See a Fall, Others Poor
Data," NEW YORK TIMES March 19, 1996, pg. 10. And: Gina Kolata, "Are
U.S. Men Less Fertile? Latest Research says No," NEW YORK TIMES April
29, 1996, pg. A-14. And: Gina Kolata, "How men measure Up, Sperm for
Sperm," NEW YORK TIMES May 5, 1996, Section 4, pg. 4.
 Brigid Schulte, "Huge Drop in Sperm Count Reported," LOS ANGELES
DAILY NEWS November 24, 1997, pg. N1.
 Andrew J. Wyrobek and others, "An evaluation of human sperm as
indicators of chemically induced alterations of spermatogenic
function," MUTATION RESEARCH Vol. 115 (1983), pgs. 73-148.
 Richard M. Sharpe and others, "Gestational and Lactational
Exposure of Rats to Xenoestrogens Results in Reduced Testicular Size
and Sperm Production," ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH PERSPECTIVES Vol. 103, No.
12 (December, 1995), pgs. 1136-1143. The chemicals tested were 4-
octylphenol (OP), butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP), and octylphenol
polyethoxylate (OPP). BPP is a phthalate, many of which are common in
the environment and in our food because they are widely used as
 Leonard J. Paulozzi and others, "Hypospadias Trends in Two US
Surveillance Systems," PEDIATRICS Vol. 100, No. 5 (November 1997), pgs.
 See REHW #562, #550, #547, #462, #447, and #412.
 Kees P. Nederlof and others, "Ectopic Pregnancy Surveillance,
United States, 1970-1987," MMWR [Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report]
CDC Surveilance Suymmary Vol. 39, No. SS-4 (December 1990), pgs. 9-17.
 Jorma Toppari and others, "Male Reproductive Health and
Environmental Xenoestrogens," ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH PERSPECTIVES Vol.
104, Supplement 4 (August 1996), pgs. 741-803.
 For example, Tina Kold Jensen and others, "Do Environmental
Estrogens Contribute to the Decline in Male Reproductive Health?"
CLINICAL CHEMISTRY Vol. 41, No. 12 (1995), pgs. 1896-1901.
Descriptor terms: studies; sex ratio; canada; u.s.; seveso; italy;
hormones; sperm count; elisabeth carlesen; shanna h. swan; hypospadias;
prostate cancer; testicular cancer; ovarian cancer; endometrial cancer;
breast cancer; ectopic pregnancy; undescended testicles;
cryptorchidism; nuremberg principles; universal declaration of human