In a new book, epidemiologist Shanna Swan looks at the impact of environmental chemicals on human sexuality and reproductive systems.

by: Sharon Lerner
January 24 2021, 4:00 a.m.

SHANNA SWAN IS the senior author of a 2017 study that documented a dramatic drop in sperm counts in Western countries over the past half-century. That meta-analysis of 185 studies involving 42,935 men found that total sperm count fell 59 percent between 1973 and 2011. Swan, a reproductive epidemiologist, pointed to the role of environmental chemicals in that trend. Now she has written “Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race,” a book that ties industrial chemicals in everyday products to a wide range of changes taking place in recent years, including increasing numbers of babies born with smaller penises; higher rates of erectile dysfunction; declining fertility; eroding sex differences in some animal species; and potentially even behaviors that are thought of as gender-typical.

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Scientists Detect 55 Chemicals Never Before Reported in People – 42 “Mystery Chemicals” Whose Sources Are Unknown

TOPICS: Environment Public Health UCSF

By University of California - San Francisco March 21, 2021

Scientists at University of California San Francisco have detected 109 chemicals in a study of pregnant women, including 55 chemicals never before reported in people and 42 “mystery chemicals,” whose sources and uses are unknown.

The chemicals most likely come from consumer products or other industrial sources. They were found both in the blood of pregnant women, as well as their newborn children, suggesting they are traveling through the mother’s placenta.

The study was published on March 16, 2021, in Environmental Science & Technology.

“These chemicals have probably been in people for quite some time, but our technology is now helping us to identify more of them,” said Tracey J. Woodruff, PhD, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at UCSF.

A former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientist, Woodruff directs the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE) and the Environmental Research and Translation for Health (EaRTH) Center, both at UCSF.

“It is alarming that we keep seeing certain chemicals travel from pregnant women to their children, which means these chemicals can be with us for generations,” she said.

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Landfills are leaking PFAS 'forever chemicals' in 41 Minnesota counties

Magnitude of the PFAS, groundwater problem is unknown, the state said.
By Jennifer Bjorhus Star Tribune MARCH 18, 2021 — 3:17PM

Groundwater at the old Gofer Landfill in Martin County near the Iowa border contains PFAS levels more than 1,000 times the state drinking water safety standard. No nearby drinking water wells have been contaminated, the MPCA said.

Dozens of closed dumps are leaking high levels of the toxic man-made PFAS "forever chemicals" into groundwater around Minnesota, and pollution regulators want more money to determine the full scope of the problem.

Groundwater at one landfill, near the Iowa border, shows PFAS contamination more than 1,000 times Minnesota's drinking water health standard — worse than levels at the former Washington County landfill near where 3M Co. manufactured the chemicals.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) released the findings at a news conference Thursday, sounding an urgent request for more resources to address it.

The closed dumps it studied are a small fraction of the landfills operating across the state.

"They are in suburbs, greater Minnesota, regional centers and small rural communities," said MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop. "They are next to our homes, our business and our farms."

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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Biosolids Biennial Report: February 2020 Report Issued

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) published a February 2021 document titled:

Biosolids Biennial Report No. 8 (“Report”)

The Report addresses the reporting period 2018-2019.

Section 405(d)(2)(C) of the Clean Water Act requires that EPA conduct a biennial review of 40 C.F.R. Part 503. As part of this review process, EPA collects and reviews publically available information addressing:

Pollutants and biosolids that were newly identified during the literature search timeframe 2018-2019

Pollutants and biosolids that were previously identified in EPA national sewage sludge surveys conducted in 1988, 2001, and 2019 and/or in previous biennials reviews

The information collected addresses the occurrence, fate and transport of such pollutants in the environment. Also addressed are their effects on human health and ecological receptors.

Biosolids are often described as nutrient-rich organic substances derived from the treatment of domestic sewage in a wastewater treatment plant. They can constitute a beneficial resource because of they contain essential plant nutrients and organic material. As a result, they are often utilized/recycled as a fertilizer and soil amendment.

Section 405 of the Clean Water Act and the regulations (40 C.F.R. Part 503) require that sewage solids be treated to meet regulatory requirements if such biosolids are to be recycled. Some biosolids permits are issued through Clean Water Act National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits.

EPA states that the Report identified 18 peer-reviewed articles referencing 116 new chemicals that occur in biosolids which included:

  • 50 polychlorinated biphenyls
  • 4 pesticides
  • 19 flame retardants
  • 8 perfluoroalkyl substances
  • 3 antibiotics
  • 1 Metal
  • 2 inorganics
  • 29 other organics

New data was also stated to have been identified for 48 chemicals previously indicated to be in biosolids. Concentration data for biosolids were found for 61 of the 116 new chemicals and for 34 chemicals identified in previous biennial reviews.

A copy of the Report can be downloaded here.

Sewage sludge in agriculture – the effects of selected chemical pollutants and emerging genetic resistance determinants on the quality of soil and crops – a review

In line with sustainable development principles and in order to combat climate change, which contributes to progressive soil depletion, various solutions are being sought to use treated sewage sludge as a soil amendment to improve soil quality and enrich arable soils with adequate amounts of biogenic compounds. This review article focuses on the effects of the agricultural use of biosolids on the environment. The article reviews the existing knowledge on selected emerging contaminants in treated sewage sludge and describes the impact of these pollutants on the environment and living organisms based on 183 publications selected from over 16,000 papers on related topics published over the last ten years. This study deals not only with chemical contaminants but also genetic determinants of resistance to these compounds. Current research has questioned the agricultural use of biosolids due to the presence of mutual interactions between antibiotics, heavy metals, the genetic determinants of resistance (antibiotic resistance genes - ARGs and heavy metal resistance genes - HMRGs) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as well as the risks associated with their transfer to the environment. This study emphasizes the need for more extensive legal regulations that account for other pollutants of environmental concern (PEC), particularly in countries where sewage sludge is applied in agriculture most extensively. Future research should focus on more effective methods of eliminating PEC from sewage sludge, especially from the sludge that is used to fertilize agricultural land, because even small amounts of these micropollutants can have serious implications for the health and life of humans and animals.

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