In a new study from Brunel University London, researchers found chemical pollution from burning fossil fuels could play a significant part in the global decline in sperm counts.
They found reproductive health problems are partly linked to increasing exposures to chemicals originating directly or indirectly from fossil fuels plus to pollution from using oil to make plastics and industrial chemicals.
While the global population is at its biggest ever, at 7.7 billion and rising, world fertility rates have nearly halved, from 4.7 in 1950 to 2.4 in 2017.
Birth rates started to fall at the same time as industrialisation and its big-scale burning of fossil fuels.
Fossil fuels have been found in people’s blood, urine, semen, breast milk, and fatty tissue. Many fossil fuel pollutants are endocrine disruptors, which means they scramble hormonal systems and harm reproductive health.
In the study, the team found industrialized regions now have rates below levels required to sustain their populations.
The team is running the first analysis of how much chemical exposure contributes to declines in semen quality.
It will highlight exactly which chemicals contribute most, which will help countries prioritize policies to reduce chemical exposure.
The team says most of the chemicals of concern come from plastic production or burning plastic in waste incinerators.
In the future, researchers will make the link between oil and gas, carbon dioxide emissions and chemical pollution.
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The study is published in Nature Reviews Endocrinology. One author of the study is Professor Andreas Kortenkamp.
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