There’s a memorable line from the 1967 film The Graduate, in which Dustin Hoffman’s character, Benjamin, receives some pithy, succinct advice about what career path to pursue after college: “Plastics. There’s a great future in plastics.” 

But a scholarly book by an environmental and reproductive epidemiologist strongly suggests that plastics don’t bode well for the future of our very species.

In fairness to plastics, they’re not alone. Plastics represent only one source of the “alphabet soup” of toxic “endocrine-disrupting” chemicals in our everyday environment that interfere with the functions of human hormones, among them testosterone and estrogen. 

Such chemicals can change brain function, impair the immune system and alter anatomical development in youngsters and the unborn. But the book’s revelations that have grabbed the most headlines deal with the chemicals’ impact on male reproductive organs and sperm counts.

The book is “COUNT DOWNHow Our Modern World Is Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, Threatening Sperm Counts, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race,” by Shanna H. Swan with Stacey Colino, published in February and reviewed by The New York Times on 5 March 2021.

Swan’s alarming data about sperm counts first caught the world’s attention in 2017 with her finding that from 1973 to 2011 the sperm count of men in Western countries had suffered a drop of 59 percent, accompanied by a rise in weaker, more oddly-shaped sperm with damaged DNA. 

In her latest book, Swan reports a drop of 1 percent per year in testosterone levels since 1982, and ties that to the 25 percent of cases of erectile dysfunction occurring in men under 40. Also, defective sperm can be responsible for miscarriages, which Swan found have increased by 1 percent per year over the past 20 years.

She speculates that sperm counts could reach zero by 2045, and that’s not all; statistically, “shrinkage” is no longer temporary; see “SPERM DOWN FOR THE COUNT, PENISES FALLING SHORT” (30 Mar 2021). And it’s not limited to Western countries; South America, Asia and Africa are similarly affected.

Such findings reveal a threat to the ability of current and future generations to conceive and bear children by normal means, possibly making the future of the human species dependent on the technology of artificial reproduction, if not impossible altogether. 

TRENDPOST: Swan identifies chemicals known as phthalates, found in a wide variety of products, as among the most injurious to sperm counts and testosterone levels. In women, these chemicals can disrupt menstrual cycles and even cause early menopause, as well as causing ovarian cysts. 

Trends Journal recently mentioned, in “THINK COVID WILL KILL YOU? HOW ABOUT THIS?” (5 Oct 2021), one common chemical in this group, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) as one of the microplastics formerly believed to pass harmlessly through the digestive system but now thought to enter the bloodstream.

Swan advocates both government regulation that would force manufacturers to prove chemicals safe—a policy gaining more traction in Europe than in the U.S.—and for individuals to be more aware of the ubiquity of harmful chemicals in everyday products, and strive to read labels and to purge such products (air-fresheners and scented products, plastic food containers and non-stick cookware, for example) from their lifestyle. See “NEW STUDY: CHEMICALS BRING ON PARKINSON’S” (13 Apr 2021), about a chemical in industrial and home cleaning products that the American Medical Association has been warning about since 1932.

TREND FORECAST:  Swan’s apocalyptic findings (which hearken back to Rachel Carson’s 1962 “Silent Spring,” the book that launched the environmental movement and gave rise to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) have yet to inspire any changes in environmental policies or regulations. 

This is unlikely to change so long as regulatory agencies continue to be headed by those with ties to the very corporations they purport to regulate, and who put corporate interests over public interests.

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