Twelve percent of the reproductive age population in the United States report trouble conceiving and/or carrying a pregnancy to full term.
Reproductive health is affected by many factors, but recent scientific evidence indicates that certain pollutants in the environment, drinking water, food supply, and common household goods may also play an important role in human fertility and reproduction in both men and women.
Though research is on-going, reproductive environmental health researchers and clinicians agree there is already a substantial body of evidence implicating low-level exposures to contaminants as a likely contributor to trends currently seen in reproductive health outcomes.
Reproductive Health Symptoms and Conditions Linked or Suspected to be Linked to Environmental Contaminants
Studies suggest links between environmental contaminants and reproductive system dysfunction. A host of symptoms and conditions are linked or suspected to be linked to exposure to heavy metals and synthetic chemicals, including pesticides.
These include, among girls and women:
- Premature ovarian failure
- Malformed reproductive organs
- Early or delayed menarche (first menstrual period)
- Infertility or compromised fertility
- Recurrent pregnancy loss
- Inability to carry baby to term, birth defects, and low birth weight
- Damage to fetal reproductive organs
- Premature menopause
- Uterine fibroids
Among boys and men, key trends in reproductive health include:
- Undescended testes or malformed reproductive organs
- Compromised sperm shape and quality, including issues of mobility, motility, and genetic integrity
- Testicular dysgenesis syndrome, or TDS, is a suspected cluster of effects (undescended testes or malformed reproductive organs, testicular cancer, and decreased sperm quality) with a hypothesized common fetal origin, such as exposure to toxic chemicals in utero.
Exposures In Utero
Researchers have found that exposures encountered in utero can shape the subsequent reproductive health of adults. Clinicians and scientists now know that the placenta does not shield the developing fetus from many chemicals or pollutants the mother encounters.
A body of evidence now demonstrates that many chemicals that people routinely encounter in the environment can mimic or interact with the endocrine (hormone) system, and can affect the fertility and reproductive health of offspring. These chemicals are referred to as “endocrine disruptors.”
For a more detailed discussion of reproductive health and the environment:
Download Body of Evidence: Reproductive Health and the Environment
How Are We Exposed, and How Can We Limit Our Exposure?
Certain contaminants found in food, personal care products, household cleaners, plastics and tobacco smoke have been linked to reproductive health concerns.
- Food – A number of pesticides have been linked to reduced fertility and menstrual irregularities in women, and hormonal changes and reduced fertility in men. If possible, grow your own food without the use of synthetic chemicals. Otherwise, purchase organic food at your grocery store if it is available. If you harvest wild foods for subsistence, be aware that certain contaminants accumulate in the Arctic marine food web and are most highly concentrated in the fatty tissue of animals.To learn more about toxic chemicals in foods and ways to reduce your exposure:
- Visit the food section of our website
- Personal care products – Many cosmetics and other personal care products contain chemical additives that have been linked to reproductive health effects. Phthalates (pronounced ‘thal-lates’) are a group of chemicals that can be found in lotions, soaps, hair products and cosmetics. Phthalate exposure can begin in utero and, in one study, is strongly associated with shorter pregnancy duration. Phthalate exposure in utero has also been linked to altered male reproductive development.To learn more about chemicals in personal care products:
- Plastics – Chemicals found in plastic products such as food containers, baby bottles and toys have been linked to infertility and other reproductive health problems. Using glass, ceramic or wooden products will reduce your exposure to these chemicals. If you must use plastic, avoid plastics marked #7 (these are likely polycarbonate plastics that contain the chemical bisphenol-A) and #3 (which are made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Avoid using plastic wrap and heating plastic containers in the microwave oven.To learn more about toxic chemicals in everyday products:
- Household cleaners – Many cleaning products contain chemical solvents and fragrances linked to infertility and other health problems. You can buy non-toxic cleaners or make your own using vinegar, baking soda and borax soap. Water-based paints, glues and citrus-based cleaners are safer to use.To learn more:
- Tobacco smoke – Tobacco smoke contains thousands of chemicals, many of which are poisonous. Even if you do not smoke, you can be harmed by secondhand smoke. New evidence suggests that you can even be exposed to chemicals from tobacco smoke long after a person who was smoking has left an indoor area. Thirdhand smoke is a new term for tobacco toxins that remain and persist after a period of active smoking. These chemicals are deposited on surfaces such as tables, furniture and floors, as well as in dust.To learn more:
- Download our environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) fact sheet
Remember these five ways to reduce your exposure to chemicals that harm reproductive health:
- Know your food
- Know what’s in your personal care products
- Be informed about plastics and avoid microwaving in plastic
- Select non-toxic household cleaners (or make your own)
- Avoid tobacco smoke
Why should Alaskans be concerned?
Below are some startling issues we face, with links to their scientific sources. Although we do not know the correlation between each of these issues, the reality is, Alaskans are facing environmental exposure to chemicals which are not even manufactured in Alaska. The way that the law stands now, it is up to us to prove that each individual chemical (of over 80,000 chemicals) causes us harm.
It is time to turn the tables and require companies to prove the safety of a chemical before it’s manufacture.
|Issue:||There is an increasing incidence of chemicals being found in the Arctic and in Alaska.|
|News:||Flame retardant chemicals show up in High Arctic – Air-monitoring station at Alert finds chemicals used on furniture and kids’ clothing. CBC News Posted: Apr 7, 2012. Available:http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/story/2012/04/07/north-arctic-flame-retardants.html?cmp=rss|
|Science:||Xiao, H. and Shen, L. and Su, Y. and Barresi, E. and Dejong, M. and Hung, H. and Lei, Y. and Wania, F. and Reiner, E.J. and Sverko, E. and Kang, S., 2012, Atmospheric concentrations of halogenated flame retardants at two remote locations: The Canadian High Arctic and the Tibetan Plateau. Environ Pollut. 2012 Feb ;161 :154-61 22230080. Available: http://lib.bioinfo.pl/pmid:22230080|
|Issue:||Over 336 million pounds of chemicals considered to be persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic were reported released into Alaska’s air, land and water in 2010, an increase of 63% in one year. Alaska ranked the highest in the United States in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory under the Community Right To Know act for toxic chemicals released into our air, land, and waters.|
|News:||01/05/12. APRN – Juneau. Alaska: High on Toxic Releases. By Dave Donaldson. Available:http://www.alaskapublic.org/2012/01/05/alaska-high-on-toxic-releases/|
|Science:||Environmental Protection Agency. 2010 Toxics Release Inventory Region 10 Alaska State Report December 2011. Available: http://www.epa.gov/region10/pdf/tri/2010-report-alaska.pdf|
|Issue:||The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that Alaskan babies between the ages of 28 days and one year (postneonatal) have a 48% higher death rate than all other babies in the United States. The Alaska Native mortality rate for babies which according to the CDC is 70% higher than the United States average.|
|Science:||Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Postneonatal Mortality Among Alaska Native Infants — Alaska, 1989–2009. MMWR 2012;61:pp. 1-5. Available: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/wk/mm6101.pdf|
|Issue:||Arctic Indigenous Peoples have some of the highest levels of persistent bioaccumulative chemicals in the world in their bodies, even though many of these chemicals are not produced in Alaska.|
|Science:||Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP). 2009. AMAP Assessment 2009: Human Health in the Arctic, p. 93. Available: www.amap.no|
|Issue:||Global transport of chemicals are showing up in the traditional foods of Alaskan Natives.|
|International Efforts:||Persistent Organic Pollutants in the Arctic – A Report for the Delegates of the 4th Conference of the Parties, Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, 2009. Available: ACAT Publication|
|Science:||Suk WA, Avakian MD, Carpenter D, Groopman JD, Scammell M, et al. 2003 Human Exposure Monitoring and Evaluation in the Arctic: The Importance of Understanding Exposures to the Development of Public Health Policy. Environ Health Perspect 112(2): doi:10.1289/ehp.6383 Available: http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info%3Adoi/10.1289/ehp.6383|
|Issue:||133 million people in the U.S., almost half of all Americans are now living at least one chronic illness, which now account for 70% of deaths and 75% of U.S. health care costs.|
|Science:||National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. 2009. The Power of Prevention Chronic disease . . . the public health challenge of the 21st century. Available:http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/pdf/2009-Power-of-Prevention.pdf|
|Issue:||Studies continue to demonstrate the link between chemical exposure and serious illness, including cancer, reproductive and developmental disorders, neurological diseases and asthma. Estimates of the proportion of the disease burden that can be attributed to chemicals vary widely, ranging from 1% of all disease to 5% of childhood cancer to 10% of diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, and neurodevelopmental deficits, to 30% of childhood asthma.|
|Science:||Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families – Health Report, The Health Case for Reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act: Executive Summary. Available: http://healthreport.saferchemicals.org/|
|Issue:||In the U.S. today, there is increasing concern that environmental contaminants may be harming the reproductive health and fertility of women and men. Reproductive and fertility problems appear to be on the rise.|
|Science:||Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families – Health Report, The Health Case for Reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act:Reproductive Health and Fertility Problems, Updated November 2010. Available: http://healthreport.saferchemicals.org/reproductive.html|
|Issue:||Babies are being born pre-polluted: A study by the Environmental Working Group shows babies can carry a body burden of over 287 industrial chemicals prior to birth.|
|Science:||Environmental Working Group. July 14, 2005. Body Burden — The Pollution in Newborns: A benchmark investigation of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides in umbilical cord blood, Executive Summary. Available: http://www.ewg.org/reports/bodyburden2/execsumm.php|
|Issue:||The CDC’s Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals showed that over ninety percent of participants had Bisphenol A (BPA) among other chemicals as part of their body burden:|
|Science:||Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, 2009, Executive Summary of the Fourth Report, CDC. Available:http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/pdf/FourthReport_ExecutiveSummary.pdf (p. 3)|
|Issue:||The highest known concentrations of PBDEs in human populations in the Arctic were found in Yupik women from the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta of Alaska.|
|Science:||Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP). 2009. AMAP Assessment 2009: Human Health in the Arctic, p. 93. Available: www.amap.no [Accessed 31 December 2009].|
|Issue:||Levels of PBDEs in U.S. women’s breast milk are 10-100 times higher than levels in European women.|
|Science:||Schecter A, Pavuk M, Päpke O, Ryan JJ, Birnbaum L, et al. 2003 Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) in U.S. Mothers’ Milk. Environmental Health Perspectives 111(14):1723-1729. doi:10.1289/ehp.6466. Available: http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info%3Adoi/10.1289/ehp.6466|
Mazdai A, Dodder NG, Abernathy MP, Hites RA, Bigsby RM, 2003 Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers in Maternal and Fetal Blood Samples. Environ Health Perspect 111(9):1249-1252. doi:10.1289/ehp.6146 Available: http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info%3Adoi/10.1289/ehp.6146
|Issue:||Concentrations of PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) have increased over the years in marine mammals due to atmospheric transport and bioaccumulation.|
|Science:||Ikonomou MG, Rayne S, Addision RF. 2002. Exponential increases of the brominated flame retardants, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, in the Canadian Arctic from 1981 to 2000. Environmental Science & Technology 36(9):1886-1892. PMID: 12026967. Available:http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12026966|
|Issue:||In Alaska, the rate of major birth defects is twice as high as the rest of the United States:|
|Science:||High Prevalence of Major Congenital Anomalies in Alaska, 1996-2002. State of Alaska, Department of Health and Social Services, Epidemiology Bulletin 16, 7/14/2008. Available:http://www.epi.alaska.gov/bulletins/docs/b2008_16.pdf|
|Compass Articles:||8/25/08 Anchorage Daily News Compass Article: Chemical pollutants likely culprits in rising birth defects. By ROXANNE CHAN and SARAH PETRAS. Available:http://www.adn.com/2008/08/25/504361/chemical-pollutants-likely-culprits.html|
|09/18/11 Anchorage Daily News Compass Article: Safe Chemicals Act protects kids.|
09/18/11 Anchorage Daily News Compass Article: Safe Chemicals Act protects kids. By GWEN LEE, the executive director of The Arc of Anchorage, a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to serving children and adults who experience intellectual and developmental disabilities. Available:http://www.adn.com/2011/09/18/2075501/safe-chemicals-act-protects-kids.html