Evidence that pesticides are impacting sperm concentration continues to pile up as the world moves closer to an underpopulation crisis.
A new review of existing studies on insecticides has found “sufficient evidence” that exposure to high levels of insecticides is associated with lower sperm concentration in men. The review focused on organophosphate (OP) and N-methyl carbamate (NMC) insecticides. The researchers said their systematic review and meta-analysis are the most comprehensive on this topic to date.
The paper, “Adult Organophosphate and Carbamate Insecticide Exposure and Sperm Concentration: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Epidemiological Evidence,” was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. It sought to answer the question, “What is the association between adult exposure to OP and NMC insecticides and sperm concentration?”
The researchers concluded that “the strength of evidence of an association between higher adult OP and NMC insecticide exposure and lower sperm concentration is sufficient enough to warrant concern, particularly in light of observed downward trends in semen quality.”
Although the paper acknowledges numerous factors that impact sperm concentration, such as age, nutrition, and lifestyle, they also point the finger at “reproductive toxicants in the environment,” particularly endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
“Reproductive toxicants are ubiquitous in the environment, and usually go unnoticed until unintended adverse effects are observed,” they write. “Pesticides are a prime example in that pesticides have known endocrine disrupting and reproductive effects but continue to be manufactured and widely applied, resulting in occupational and environmental exposures.”
Regarding occupational exposures, the review noted that workers exposed to toxins in the course of their job “generally experience higher exposures than the general population.” However, they also noted that because of widespread exposure to the chemicals in the environment, “even a small magnitude of effect could have consequential impacts on sperm concentration at a population level.”
The review also found evidence that organophosphate insecticides “may present a greater risk to sperm concentration” than NMC insecticides.
Several times throughout the paper, the researchers call for actions to be taken to reduce exposure to these potentially harmful chemicals and “prevent continued male reproductive harm.” These actions include “health-protective policy” and “engineering solutions,” though the authors did not provide specific details.
The researchers used three scientific databases (PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science), two US government databases (NIOSHTIC-2 and Science.gov), and five NGO websites to identify “relevant primary epidemiological studies published in any language“ through August 11, 2022. They found 3,827 records before narrowing it down to 25 studies that met the standards for the systematic review.
Trump & Biden Exacerbated the Problem
The systematic review is not the first time the world has been warned about the dangers of this particular class of insecticides. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization, assessed the carcinogenicity of five organophosphate pesticides. The IARC decided to label the herbicide glyphosate—the key ingredient in Bayer’s RoundUp—and the insecticides malathion and diazinon as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
In January 2017, the US Environmental Protection Agency reported that a biological evaluation found 97 percent of federally protected species are likely harmed by malathion. This means nearly 1,800 animals and plants protected under the Endangered Species Act are likely to be harmed by malathion. The evaluation also found that another 78 percent of endangered plants and animals are likely to be hurt by the pesticide diazinon.
Despite these warnings, once elected president of the United States, Donald Trump ended investigations into the dangers posed by malathion. In 2018, a coalition of conservation and public health groups responded by filing suit against the Trump Administration and EPA. They accused the federal government of forgoing an assessment of malathion, as well as suspending training for pesticide handlers. The Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Environmental Health, and Californians for Pesticide Reform accused then head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, of failing to protect endangered wildlife and the environment by abandoning a safety assessment of malathion.
“It is unacceptable to ignore the range of well-documented dangers with this outdated class of organophosphate pesticides,” Sarah Aird, co-director of Californians for Pesticide Reform, said at the time. “Malathion is one of the most dangerous pesticides still available on the market.”
Unfortunately, the use of malathion and other organophosphates continues under President Joe Biden.
A 2021 analysis by the US Fish and Wildlife Service found that malathion jeopardizes the continued existence of 78 endangered plants and animals. However, the Center for Biological Diversity said the 2021 analysis “represents a dramatic departure from the findings of an Obama administration analysis scrapped by the Trump administration that found malathion jeopardized 1,284 endangered plants and animals.”
Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity, was even more pointed in her criticism of the Biden administration.
“We need to impose commonsense restrictions on pesticide use if we want to dodge mass extinctions in this country, and this is our moment to do just that for malathion,” Burd stated in a press release. “But that won’t happen unless the Biden administration grows a spine and stands up to the powerful pesticide industry. And this analysis suggests that they’d rather not.”
To make matters worse, in March 2022 the Biden Administration reversed course altogether: The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that malathion does not pose an extinction risk to a single protected animal or plant. The USFWS also refused to implement any immediate measures to protect endangered species (and humans) from the chemical.
“This decision to cave to powerful special interest groups will do far-reaching harm to our most endangered wildlife,” Burd stated.
As the evidence mounts that organophosphates like malathion pose risks to the health of animals and humans, the Biden administration continues the trend of previous administrations by allowing the industry to dictate their decisions. This is yet another reason why Americans cannot rely on the federal government to protect them from toxins.
To learn more about how to protect yourself from environmental toxins read my recent piece, Five Ways Your Health Is Under Attack – and How to Protect Yourself.