This is part 3 in a series of articles in connection with our upcoming Plastic Health Summit. On October 21, we are hosting speakers from around the world in Amsterdam; these speakers will look at the plastic issue from a variety of angles, including health, environment, criminal justice, human rights, EU policy, and activism. Today: fertility.
13 October 2021
I imagine almost every human being will find the threat of the plastic crisis on our planet very worrying. I, for one, find it disturbing to think about the threat it poses to myself and future generations. Although I found myself reasonably informed on the hazards it poses to our society, I had no idea of the impact of plastic on our health or our (potential) children’s health.
Mistakenly so, as research has found not only plastic affects our environment but
– since we’re part of the environment- also potentially our fertility and that of future generations. Fertility already faces so many threats that having plastic added to that list is not something we should want for our society. It is safe to say I was shocked to learn about the impact of plastic on our fertility and started to ask myself the question: why are we not talking about this more?
How does plastic impact your body?
You might wonder how plastic influences our fertility. The answer is a bit complicated, which I will try to lay out as straightforward as possible. It all has to do with how your body takes up the chemicals used to give plastics their various properties such as solid or flexible, clear or coloured, flame resistant or not. Bisphenol-A (BPA) is one of those chemicals commonly used in, for example, food containers and baby bottles.
During the upcoming Plastic Health Summit, Patricia Hunt, Professor of Molecular Biosciences, at the Washington State University, will talk about her research on the intergenerational effects of plasticising chemicals. She will talk about what happens if, for example, BPA leaks out of the plastics and enters our bodies. These chemicals are harmful as they degenerate and disrupt your hormonal system, which is responsible for growth, sexual functioning, sleep, and behaviour.
So, these chemical additives in plastics can impact many aspects of our lives. The most disturbing aspect is that these chemicals can be found in everyday products, such as cosmetics, room fresheners, food containers, or drinking bottles. Hunt will elaborate more on this topic by discussing how humans process these chemicals that can cause chaos to your hormonal system.
Plastics hurts us already in the womb
So, ”innocent” products like containers that store food and drinks that you would think from the outlook can cause no harm, apparently actually contain harmful chemicals, like BPA. Research by Harvard University has shown that exposure to this chemical could play a role in 20 percent of all unexplained infertility. An outrageously high percentage, especially since so little is communicated about these risks plastics pose to our fertility.
As this percentage is so high it makes it all the more crucial that Patricia Hunt will talk about this topic and her experiments with pregnant mice and their unborn foetuses. She found that mice who were exposed to BPA leaking out of plastic, decreased the mice’s fertility. But she also found that it was damaging the reproductive organs of the mice’s unborn offspring. In other words, future generations of mammals can be harmed because the ovaries of the unborn mice (the foetuses inside the womb) are also not developing normally because of plastics. This means that even if it was possible for plastics to be removed from our society with a snap of your fingers, the effect of plastics could still affect future generations.
Influence on personal choices
All of these findings are disheartening as for many people, the chance of having healthy children is a very important part of life. Having external factors influence this without your knowledge or the opportunity to redirect this harm is hard to stomach. Especially because it could impact generations to come.
Patricia Hunt acknowledges this and will give suggestions on what can be done to relieve our world from these chemicals and calls for transparency, so individuals know the extent of this exposure. Rightly so, the Plastic Health Summit will highlight this topic in the hope that the influence of plastic on our health will gain more attention. Make sure you attend this year’s summit to learn more on this and other topics that will discuss the effects of plastic on our health.
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