Semen quality deteriorates due to plastic, but there are still no stricter EU laws

  • Cecil van de Grift

    news reporter

  • Linda de Groot

    news reporter

  • Cecil van de Grift

    news reporter

  • Linda de Groot

    news reporter

Chemical substances in everyday products made of plastic, creams and perfumes – so-called hormone-disrupting substances – are harmful to reproduction and should be limited. The main Dutch experts in this field disagree News hour.

Last year, the EU Commission had to come up with strict legislation to limit the risks of these substances, but it did not succeed. Research from the Netherlands and abroad on this topic is accumulating.

Scientists recently warned of declining sperm quality. In the 1970s, one milliliter of semen contained an average of 90 million sperm. Now it has dropped to an average of 50 million sperm cells per milliliters. Known causes are smoking, alcohol and obesity, but more and more research now shows that plasticizers and other chemicals affect fertility.

“We cannot completely avoid these chemicals,” says toxicologist Majorie van Duursen from the Free University of Amsterdam. She researches the influence of hormone-disrupting substances. “The substances are in many plastics, electronics, cosmetics. It can also be in your food, especially if you heat food in plastic containers in the microwave.” She therefore advises against it.

Less testosterone

Worldwide, more and more is known about the harmful influence of chemical substances on health. Several studies of the effects are also underway in the Netherlands, such as at the Erasmus MC in Rotterdam. There, doctors monitor tens of thousands of children from early pregnancy. It turns out that hormone-disrupting substances affect children’s development.

“It is very striking that children who are exposed to hormone-disrupting substances during pregnancy reach puberty much earlier,” says Gert Dohle, who as a urologist at Erasmus MC specializes in the development of the male genital organs. And that’s not the only thing. Children also seem to produce less testosterone and the testicles develop more poorly.

Dohle: “The most important thing a testicle does is produce sperm later in life. The consequences of this poor development is that when boys grow up later and want to have children, they have insufficient sperm quality. Or sometimes they have none see at all.” Toxicologist Majorie van Duursen recently showed that endocrine disruptors also affect women’s fertility.

Few men talk openly about reduced fertility, but teacher Martin van den Broek does. He wants to break the taboo:

‘A Tsunami of Emotions’

In Europe, it was agreed in 2018 that these chemicals may no longer be used in a number of years. At the end of 2022, the European Commission would come up with strict rules, but those rules are still being delayed because the preparations are taking longer than estimated.

Patchwork

The Netherlands is awaiting the European directives, but other countries are already taking measures themselves. Belgium has recently adopted a national plan for endocrine disruptors. “The purpose of this plan is to raise awareness and inform the population,” says Eveline de Coster, adviser to the Belgian environment minister.

Denmark is also one of the forerunners, since strict laws have been in place since the 1990s. “We have a ban on all plasticizers in children’s toys, and we have an app that allows you to scan products for hormone-disrupting substances,” says Magnus Lofstedt, biologist at the Danish RIVM.

The Netherlands is not coming up with a plan to prevent a patchwork of different measures in member states from emerging, a health ministry spokesman said. “The Ministry regrets the delay in European legislation and the Netherlands has called on the European Commission to limit the delay as much as possible.”

In addition, the ministry refers to the website Waarzitwatin.nl, which informs consumers about known hormone-disrupting substances and risks.

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