Just when we are starting to hope that we can see an end to the Covid19 pandemic along comes more bad news. I read today that research now shows that tiny plastic particles in the lungs of pregnant rats pass rapidly into other organs including the heart and the brain. Evidently this is the first such study in a live mammal that shows the placenta does not block such particles. Of course we are now well aware that microplastic has reached every part of the planet and people are consuming the tiny particles via food and water and also by breathing them in. The impact on health is as yet unknown.
Separately, but potentially connected, I read that thanks to hormone-disrupting chemicals human fertility is declining at an alarming rate all around the globe. In an article by Erin Brockovich (yes you do know the name, she’s now writing for the Guardian) we learn of a book by an environmental and reproductive epidemiologist, Shanna Swan, that reports human sperm counts have dropped almost 60% since 1973. On that trajectory sperm counts could reach zero by 2045. No natural reproduction, no babies. No new humans. The chemicals to blame for this reproductive crisis are, surprise, surprise, found in everything from plastic containers and food wrapping, to waterproof clothes and fragrances in cleaning products, to soaps and shampoos, to electronics and carpeting. I’ll quote from the Guardian article:
Swan’s book is staggering in its findings. “In some parts of the world, the average twentysomething woman today is less fertile than her grandmother was at 35,” Swan writes. In addition to that, Swan finds that, on average, a man today will have half of the sperm his grandfather had. “The current state of reproductive affairs can’t continue much longer without threatening human survival,” writes Swan, adding: “It’s a global existential crisis.” That’s not hyperbole. That’s just science.
However, on the same day I read in the MIT briefing that researchers have grown mice in an artificial womb for as long as 11 or 12 days, about half the animal’s natural gestation period. It’s a record for development of a mammal outside the womb and, according to the research team, human embryos could be next. The researchers say scientists will want to develop human embryos this way too, in order to better study early development. The human equivalent of 12-day-old mice would be a first-trimester embryo. But the scientific community agrees that they would never try to establish a pregnancy with artificial embryos—an act that would be forbidden today in most countries. Maybe the ethical issues would go away very rapidly if the very existence of the human race is up for grabs!
The whole topic of sustainability has become very topical. Primarily in context with climate change questions. But it is becoming very clear that humans in their race for growth, are in the process of destroying everything! Just when you thought we didn’t need any more “once in a lifetime” problems, it seems that we are facing into even more global crises. Tighten your seat-belt!
Plummeting sperm counts, shrinking penises: toxic chemicals threaten humanity
Plastic particles pass from mothers into foetuses, rat study shows
A mouse embryo has been grown in an artificial womb—humans could be next
I’ve read the same, and it’s almost too huge to ponder. Where do we start? How do we get the necessary regulations to force industry to make the essential changes?
We must hope that human ingenuity will rise to meet the threat. Thanks for this urgently needed post!
I know exactly how you feel. The problem is all around us. We have hugely powerful regulators for all manner of things where safety is a potential concern, yet this has been completely missed. Yes we are trying to reduce plastic, mostly because we were motivated by David Attenborough’s films about ocean pollution. But this is a wake up call as you say of a completely different magnitude.
We all know what happened to the EPA under Trump. However there’s maybe good news, I see Biden’s pick for EP is veteran environmental regulator Michael Regan. We’ll see. Here’s an interesting link to Shanna Swan https://www.ehn.org/conversation-with-shanna-swan-2650601444/infertility-and-plastic-pollution
Very sobering information, David! The environment is a huge concern of mine, and there are many environmental themes in my work. My book series, Hanging Out with Wild Animals. has poems about habitat, extinction of species, and invasive species.
I sometimes post poems about environmental issues. “Save Mother Earth,” “Ode to a Glass Jar,” and “An Awkward Conversation with Mother Earth” are three recent posts. I hope that my poems raise awareness and that readers will do research and take action on these issues. This post is very well-written and comprehensive, and I appreciate it very much!
Thank you for following my blog. I hope you are having an enjoyable weekend! 🙂