I know you are hearing a lot about the water… the rivers, the oceans, the water in the tap.. and that it all seems complicated and overwhelming. Indeed, there are gyres of plastic in the ocean the size of a city and there are drugs in the tap water in New York City and the coral reefs are dieing off from pollution.. but there’s another one. One that hits really close to home and should be a major concern for you.
Recent studies prove that chemicals in the water supply (from the ocean up the waterways to your kitchen sink) are bending genders in wildlife. These chemicals are what is known as endocrine disruptors, similar to the BPA everyone has been talking about, and they change the sex in organisms. Aquatic organisms are switching from male to female and back again as a result of exposure to these chemicals. But the stuff isn’t isolated to distant waterways where nothing but creeping anemones sprawl on rocks and in caves; this stuff is right out there, where you might even be swimming. For sure, they are moving into the water that is used to make our tap water. No kidding.
This has been going on for decades, by the way. As you might imagine, substances found in many common household products are finding their way into the waterways.. and, sadly, are altering the hormones of wildlife until, in some cases, it changes their sex entirely. This is serious stuff. It not only affects small amoebas or algaes but animals as large as Hermit Crabs, in which the phenomenon has been documented. This is because of chemicals like TBT, which is found in type of paint used by sailors to keep barnacles from growing on the hulls of their ships.
But not just bottom paint on a few boats causes this. From plastics to pesticides, cosmetics substances for industrial use, detergents and human urine, as well, the sources of endocrine disrupters are many. Although there is a huge difference in the composition of substances like detergent and human urine, they all have the ability to interact with estrogen receptors that almost all animals carry in their cell membranes. These substances are actually a kind of “disguised” hormones, producing misleading messages that make cells multiply (like cancer), die or produce proteins when they shouldn’t be. This is reeking havoc with our natural world and is likely to have an impact on all of us over time.
One of the worst effects these endocrin disrupters have on living organisms is the feminizing of males and causing females to become more masculine. Now, this does not mean that they just go around acting “gay”, it means that they actually acquire the characteristics of the opposite sex. During this process, the same chemicals are suspected to have created the huge drop in fertility among polar bears, penguins and other overly exposed species (aquatic animals) that has been documented.
In the studies with Hermit Crabs, it was found that 8 percent of the crabs possessed both male and female reproductive organs. This is where they began to suspect that TBT might be to blame. Since this study was completed, they have banned the use of the paint with TBT and although this was hoped to stem the problem, it persists to this day. In the course of events that have followed, many substances containing potential endocrine disruptors have been outlawed but this method has been hit and miss, willy nilly and not that effective. The outlawing of DDT has helped to some extent but to pick and choose products to ban and then leave others on the shelves, is not a solution. Plastics, in particular, are proving to be among the worst offenders and yet, as you well know, they are still everywhere.
But here’s the real painful part. Some researchers suspect that endocrine disrupters have been manipulating the hormone levels in humans as well. There has been a drastic decline in the sperm count of men over the past 60 years, and the substance may be to blame. Still, with some many possible culprits introduced in that period, proving a connection may be impossible. Loss of virility is channeled into our conciousness everytime we see another add for ED meds and the number of women desperately seeking fertility treatments has risen drastically over the past few decades. Just about in line with the time that plastics took over our world.
The big prolbem is that it is very hard to confirm a causal link between these contaminants and human health. This in spite of the fact that the environmental impact is already well established. The problem is that, as a society, we continue to believe that the human universe exists above and beyond that of animals and of the planet. We have yet to accept a general trajectory between the two. Science has attempted to draw a line from one to the other but many people refuse to believe it. Until we realize that what happens to the world at large has an impact on our little worlds then this sort of thing will go unchecked.
And although there has been a push to limit the presence of endocrine disrupters in the world’s ecosystems, research shows that it is still changing the sex of some aquatic organisms. This is a disaster which is likely to find it’s way back to our human system if through nothing more than the food chain. So I don’t think you can avoid contact with this stuff simply by changing shampoos or washing your homes in vinegar; natural alternatives will only help so much. As long as we eat from the world around us, from our vegetables to our proteins, we are vulnerable. And I am afraid it is going to take a measurable human toll to force the changes we desperately need. When we start finding our own children switching from male to female or female to male we might start to pay attention. Until then, the woman with a new moustache or the man with a rising pitch in his voice may not put the two things together. I am afraid that by the time we do, it will be to late to turn back.