WWF raises new endocrine disrupter fears

Group calls for strong action after Danish study finds first solid evidence of low human sperm counts

The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) has called for "renewed urgency" in EU efforts to tackle hormone-mimicking chemicals after a study showed alarmingly low sperm counts in Danish soldiers. The study, which its authors say is the first to measure sperm counts in a random sample of men, found that over two-fifths of recruits had "sub-optimal semen quality."

Led by researchers at the Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, the study showed that 43% of the soldiers had sperm counts at levels which WWF said would lead to decreased fertility. "Similar findings in the past have been criticised for being unrepresentative," said Elizabeth Salter of WWF's toxics programme. "This study proves that reduced sperm production is real and common."

Though the study said the causes of the low counts were "obscure," WWF believes that exposure to known and suspected endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) such as tributyl tin (TBT) and bisphenol A are strong contributing factors. "Before the 1930s there were very few man-made chemicals," said Ms Salter. "Today everyone is constantly exposed [to them]."

Last year, the EU proposed a strategy to tackle EDCs. The first step involves targeted risk assessments of a yet-to-be published list of around 40 priority chemicals (ENDS Daily 21 December 1999). WWF said the Commission's proposals "fell far short" of European Parliament demands for some of the substances to be phased out. "We cannot wait until exhaustive research programmes are completed," it said.

* In a related development, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has hailed the results of a voluntary agreement with industry to phase out the use of pesticides containing potentially endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Signed in 1995, the agreement aimed at preventing future production or import of such compounds.

Use of the targeted pesticides has been virtually eliminated under the agreement, falling from 140,000 kilograms (kg) in 1995 to just 600kg now, according to the EPA. Officials praised industry for its speed and commitment in living up to what they said had been a costly and difficult agreement to honour. They said they hoped it would increase pressure on the EU to make community-wide regulations.

Follow Up:
WWF European Policy Office, tel: +32 2 743 8000, and the abstract of "High frequency of sub-optimal semen quality in an unselected population of young men," published in Human Reproduction, Vol. 15, No. 2, 366-372, February 2000. Danish EPA, tel: +45 32 66 01 00.

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