Country Living May Be Hazardous to Men's Fertility


| April 8, 2004


No, contrary to a popular misconception, that old Axis of Evil -- tight jeans, tobacco, and alcohol -- is not driving down sperm counts, Orna Izakson reports on epidemiologist Shanna Swan's groundbreaking discovery; it's the country life. Men from rural areas where corn, sorghum, and soybeans grow rampant are at a reproductive disadvantage when compared with their urban counterparts. 'Swan reported that men in Boone County, Missouri, had a 42 percent lower sperm count than their counterparts in urban Minneapolis.'

Swan's study, published last July in Environmental Health Perspectives, placed the blame on farms using pesticides. Researchers examined urine samples collected from the men and looked for the presence of 15 different chemicals commonly used on the farm. 'Men with high levels of the herbicide alachlor were 30 times more likely to have diminished sperm quality' and 'men with high levels of the insecticide diazanon or the herbicide atrazine were 16.7 or 11.3 times more likely to have poor sperm quality, respectively,' writes Isakson. Such pesticides aren't allowed in urban areas any longer because of their toxicity to children, but they are still rampant in agriculture, 'primarily for fruit and nut crops.'

Furthermore, Izakson points out, 'there are well-documented links between chemicals that have since been banned and the complete loss of sperm in workers exposed to them, such as dibromochloropropane, a pesticide historically used on pineapples.' Despite criticism that her samples were too small and should not have been conducted in the heat of summer when sperm counts typically drop, Swan calls this news 'enormously significant because the pesticides we've linked to poor semen quality are among the most commonly used.'
-- Jacob Wheeler

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