Beach cleanup goes high-tech

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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Plastic-munching robots, floating drones and other "smart" contraptions are starting to ply beaches and waterways, systematically removing dangerous debris left by summertime revelers.Why it matters: Not only are these futuristic technologies highly effective in scouring the areas they patrol, they're also eye-catching novelties that focus public attention on the growing problem of plastic waste, particularly in oceans.They're likely to become more common sights — but for now, they tend to be very expensive, limiting their deployment.Driving the news: In early experiments, a new generation of high-tech cleaning devices has been deployed to cull plastic, cigarette butts, cotton swabs and other trash from the Great Lakes, Lake Tahoe and select Florida beaches.Running on solar or electric power, the emissions-free devices offer a newfangled alternative to the old-fashioned community trash cleanup.Some target larger bits of debris, while others are able to remove dangerous microplastics from the water."The number of technologies coming into market has really expanded considerably," said Melissa De Young, director of policy and programs at Pollution Probe, an environmental nonprofit. "And that's thanks to the attention that plastic pollution has had in the media and from government initiatives."The Great Lakes are at the vanguard of experimentation. Thanks to private donations, government grants and gifts like $1 million from Meijer supermarkets, a flotilla of cutting-edge contraptions has been deployed:The latest are the BeBot, a $55,000 beach-sifting robot that collects the waste buried in a defined area, and the PixieDrone, a $33,000 floating Roomba that works autonomously or by remote control.Also in use are the Seabin (a floating trash bin for marinas), the LittaTrap (a catch basin that sits inside a storm drain) and the Gutter Bin stormwater filtration system — devices that cost between $700 and $10,000 each, said Mark Fisher, president and CEO of the Council of the Great Lakes Region.Beach cleanup data shows that nearly 80% of the material washing up on the Great Lakes is plastic, Fisher said."We certainly want to try and test out other technologies that might be out there," Fisher tells Axios."Each in their own right are very effective, but we also know that these technologies are not going to solve the larger problem, which is how do we forge a future without waste?" Where it stands: The Great Lakes Plastic Cleanup, launched in 2020 by Pollution Probe and the Council of the Great Lakes Region, is focused both on cleanup technology and raising awareness of the plastic waste problem.Highly visible cleaning gadgets "are important for having those critical conversations with coastal communities and policymakers," Fisher said.When people see devices like the BeBot in action, it sparks their curiosity and gets them concerned about the issue — children in particular, De Young said.What they're saying: "When our partners use our technologies, straightaway they have people coming to them asking about how it works," said Gautier Peers of Searial Cleaners, a French company that makes the BeBot and the PixieDrone."It's a great way for them to educate and inform families, especially kids, about the plastic pollution crisis," he said. "It convinces them to change their consumption habits as far as plastic is concerned."The BeBot has been used to clean beaches in South Lake Tahoe and all around Florida, raising awareness in those areas.Searial Cleaners also makes the Collec'Thor, a trash-trapping waste bin that sits at the water's edge, and InvisiBubble, a bubble curtain that captures small waste particles.What's next: Peers acknowledges that the high cost of Searial's devices is a limiting factor, but says growing attention to beach and ocean pollution is helping galvanize governments, nonprofits, corporations and individuals.The International Trash Trap Network is encouraging people to use an app called Clean Swell, which lets them track litter they pick up from the beach.Next spring, expect devices like the BeBot (and Mr. Trash Wheel and the Bubble Barrier) to be a growing presence.

Plastic-munching robots, floating drones and other "smart" contraptions are starting to ply beaches and waterways, systematically removing dangerous debris left by summertime revelers.Why it matters: Not only are these futuristic technologies highly effective in scouring the areas they patrol, they're also eye-catching novelties that focus public attention on the growing problem of plastic waste, particularly in oceans.They're likely to become more common sights — but for now, they tend to be very expensive, limiting their deployment.Driving the news: In early experiments, a new generation of high-tech cleaning devices has been deployed to cull plastic, cigarette butts, cotton swabs and other trash from the Great Lakes, Lake Tahoe and select Florida beaches.Running on solar or electric power, the emissions-free devices offer a newfangled alternative to the old-fashioned community trash cleanup.Some target larger bits of debris, while others are able to remove dangerous microplastics from the water."The number of technologies coming into market has really expanded considerably," said Melissa De Young, director of policy and programs at Pollution Probe, an environmental nonprofit. "And that's thanks to the attention that plastic pollution has had in the media and from government initiatives."The Great Lakes are at the vanguard of experimentation. Thanks to private donations, government grants and gifts like $1 million from Meijer supermarkets, a flotilla of cutting-edge contraptions has been deployed:The latest are the BeBot, a $55,000 beach-sifting robot that collects the waste buried in a defined area, and the PixieDrone, a $33,000 floating Roomba that works autonomously or by remote control.Also in use are the Seabin (a floating trash bin for marinas), the LittaTrap (a catch basin that sits inside a storm drain) and the Gutter Bin stormwater filtration system — devices that cost between $700 and $10,000 each, said Mark Fisher, president and CEO of the Council of the Great Lakes Region.Beach cleanup data shows that nearly 80% of the material washing up on the Great Lakes is plastic, Fisher said."We certainly want to try and test out other technologies that might be out there," Fisher tells Axios."Each in their own right are very effective, but we also know that these technologies are not going to solve the larger problem, which is how do we forge a future without waste?" Where it stands: The Great Lakes Plastic Cleanup, launched in 2020 by Pollution Probe and the Council of the Great Lakes Region, is focused both on cleanup technology and raising awareness of the plastic waste problem.Highly visible cleaning gadgets "are important for having those critical conversations with coastal communities and policymakers," Fisher said.When people see devices like the BeBot in action, it sparks their curiosity and gets them concerned about the issue — children in particular, De Young said.What they're saying: "When our partners use our technologies, straightaway they have people coming to them asking about how it works," said Gautier Peers of Searial Cleaners, a French company that makes the BeBot and the PixieDrone."It's a great way for them to educate and inform families, especially kids, about the plastic pollution crisis," he said. "It convinces them to change their consumption habits as far as plastic is concerned."The BeBot has been used to clean beaches in South Lake Tahoe and all around Florida, raising awareness in those areas.Searial Cleaners also makes the Collec'Thor, a trash-trapping waste bin that sits at the water's edge, and InvisiBubble, a bubble curtain that captures small waste particles.What's next: Peers acknowledges that the high cost of Searial's devices is a limiting factor, but says growing attention to beach and ocean pollution is helping galvanize governments, nonprofits, corporations and individuals.The International Trash Trap Network is encouraging people to use an app called Clean Swell, which lets them track litter they pick up from the beach.Next spring, expect devices like the BeBot (and Mr. Trash Wheel and the Bubble Barrier) to be a growing presence.

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Is Cape Town’s Mayor Winning the War on Sewage?

Cape Town still has a sewage pollution crisis, but the mayor is “on the right track”, says expert. By Steve Kretzmann. When he took office, Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis promised to make dealing with sewage pollution a priority. One year on there has been some progress, and water quality data is now available on the […] The post Is Cape Town’s Mayor Winning the War on Sewage? appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

Cape Town still has a sewage pollution crisis, but the mayor is “on the right track”, says expert. By Steve Kretzmann. When he took office, Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis promised to make dealing with sewage pollution a priority. One year on there has been some progress, and water quality data is now available on the City’s website. But there are still major concerns, such as the Potsdam sewage treatment works, which releases about 47-million litres of effluent into the Diep River every day. It has been a year since Geordin Hill-Lewis donned Cape Town’s mayoral chain and declared the city’s sewage pollution crisis a top priority. The City is making some progress, but many of the biggest pollution problems remain. Arguably the most pressing, and most visible sewage pollution is that of the Diep River estuary, which forms the Milnerton Lagoon. The estuary receives stormwater and pollution via the Diep River from informal settlements upstream, but activists and scientists believe the main pollution source is the Potsdam sewage treatment works, which releases about 47-million litres of effluent into the Diep River every day. Under the City’s management, the effluent is supposed to be properly treated, but historical data from the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) shows the sewage plant has failed to meet national effluent quality guidelines since 2018. The extent of the estuary’s pollution led to the provincial government issuing the City a directive to stop the pollution and rehabilitate the estuary more than two years ago. Though the pollution has continued, no further action has been taken by provincial authorities. Any recreational activity on the estuary is currently a health hazard, and surrounding residents have to endure an almost permanent stench emanating from the water. During his election campaign, Hill-Lewis said he had childhood memories of swimming in the lagoon and intended to return it to a healthy state before the end of his term. But lead researcher at UCT’s Future Water Institute Dr Kevin Winter believes that at the current rate this is unlikely. Widespread sewage treatment failure Potsdam is far from the only failing sewage treatment plant. Of the 24 sewage treatment plants managed by the City (excluding three marine outfalls), 15 release effluent into our rivers and oceans that do not meet national DWS guidelines, the DWS dashboard shows. This is just one less than the 16 which were failing last year. Failing sewage plants include Athlone, which is designed to treat 105-million litres of sewage per day. Over the past three months, it has a 0% adherence to national guidelines for faecal coliforms such as E.coli and enterococcus (max 1,000 faecal coli/100ml) and scores 46% for treatment of chemical pollution indicators such as phosphates and nitrates. This partially treated effluent is released into the highly polluted Black River, from which people are known to fish for food. Other notable sewage works failures are the Cape Flats treatment works, which release up to 200-million litres of effluent into False Bay per day, along with Simon’s Town (4.7million-litres/day), and Macassar (35million-litres/day). The cumulative effect of these failing sewage works releasing effluent into False Bay contributes to growing levels of pharmaceutical and industrial chemicals in the seawater, which accumulate up the food chain. Local scientists have found alarming levels of these chemicals in fish sold at Kalk Bay harbour. Sewage on the streets Sewage spills along residential streets are common in places such as Dunoon and parts of Khayelitsha, where sewer blockages and collapsed pipes lead to sewage pushing up from manholes. The raw sewage flows down streets and enters the stormwater system where it adds to contamination of streams and rivers. This has also been a longstanding problem, creating a health risk for residents and children in particular, impacting people’s dignity and right to a healthy environment. In a July press release, Hill-Lewis stated the City was investing R150-million on sewer pipe replacements in the current financial year, enabling the annual sewer pipe replacement target to increase from 28km to 50km this year. “Over the past financial year, sewer pipelines were replaced in several areas, including Muizenberg, Glencairn, Kalkfontein, Khayelitsha, Gordon’s Bay, Eerste River, Kraaifontein, Wallacedene, Joe Slovo, Milnerton, Goodwood, Philippi, Gugulethu, Mitchells Plain, Kuyasa, Delft, Bellville, Dunoon, Milnerton, Joe Slovo/Phoenix, Makhaza, Cape Flats and Sweet Home,” stated Hill-Lewis. This is having some impact. In the June 2020 to June 2021 financial year, the City reported there were 1,368 sewage spills per 100km of pipeline. Over the last 12 months, this has been reduced to 1,068. As reported by Peter Luhanga, residents of Dunoon have said they are looking forward to an end to rivers of sewage flowing down their streets. “For eight years I have been tip-toeing over sewage. We’re very excited and grateful to see our ward councillor at the centre of service delivery in our township,” said Nomhla Maposa, who lives along Dunoon’s Mnandi Street, where sewage frequently overflows when sewer lines are blocked. Making gains Except for Milnerton Lagoon, the extended closure of major recreational inland water bodies – Rietvlei, Zandvlei, Zeekoevlei, and Milnerton Lagoon – has not been repeated this year with Hill-Lewis in charge. Earlier this month, councillor Alex Lansdowne, who chairs the mayoral advisory committee for water quality in wetlands and waterways, listed 30 things the City has done to clean up Cape Town’s vleis, rivers and wetlands. Lansdowne admits many of the initiatives are symbolic and some are small in scale but are part of a new approach to water governance which prioritises transparency and collaboration. Winter, who sits on the City’s Committee on Inland Water Quality, says the establishment of the committee, which meets quarterly and is attended by specialists in water quality, executive and management members of the City’s water and sanitation department, mayco members, and councillors, is in itself “a significant gain”. The committee is not a decision making body, but it shares information “that is helping to make gains”. Equally, Winter said the publication of water quality data on the City’s website is “a massive gain which is partly attributed to the mayor” as such information “is crucial to inform citizens, to build trust and improve the potential for partnerships”. ‘Huge concerns’ remain But Winter said there are “huge concerns around the lack of compliance and final effluent discharge from Athlone, Cape Flats, Klipheuwel, Potsdam, and Simon’s Town” sewage treatment works. He said the failure of Potsdam in particular, resulting in the pollution of the Diep River estuary, “warrants new levels of action and a call for a state of emergency within the City”. While there are plans to upgrade Potsdam, the receiving wetlands, Milnerton Lagoon, the near shore marine environment, and the people living around it, cannot afford to wait five years before this upgrade is in place, said Winter. He said sanitation also includes safe access to toilets, which is an “ongoing challenge, especially in peri-urban/informal parts of the city that are continuing to expand”. He said the mayor has been rather quiet about addressing this issue. “The clarion call, even if this is aspirational, should be ‘a toilet in every home’.” Inherited problems Winter said the mayor was “on the right track” but “has been dealt a bad hand” by inheriting sewage treatment works that were deteriorating. “He is making the right noises, but the challenge of keeping this city on track is simply overwhelming and it can’t be left to the City. Formal agreements and meaningful, trustworthy partnerships between community-based groups and the private sector are necessary to address an increasing challenge of water and sanitation in a rapidly expanding city that is receiving very little support from the national fiscus.” Milnerton Central Residents’ Association environmental head Caroline Marx, who has been at the forefront of the fight to clean up the Diep River estuary and is one of the people behind rethinkthestink.co.za, said the City’s long term plans to address the sewage pollution crisis were “good” and the mayor’s team had done more to address the problem during the last year than the previous administration did over five years. “That being said, they haven’t done enough,” said Marx. “The quality of discharge from Potsdam is dreadful.” She said when matters were reported directly to the mayor, action followed, but the problems should have been dealt with by engineers and technicians. “Politicians don’t know anything about wastewater generally. The officials paid to run those plants are not doing their job. Politicians should only have to provide the budget and hold them accountable.” She said she was in agreement with Winter that Potsdam should be declared a disaster. “There are people really really trying hard but there are things that are just not working.” Black water seeping into the sea at Milnerton in 2019. Photo: Supplied Published originally on GroundUp . © 2022 GroundUp The post Is Cape Town’s Mayor Winning the War on Sewage? appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

DOJ to appoint third-party manager in Jackson following water crisis

The Justice Department will appoint a third-party manager as part of its oversight of Jackson, Miss., following the city’s water crisis earlier in the year. The manager, who has not been named, would be responsible for stabilizing the drinking water system for the city, which saw its second crisis in as many years this August....

The Justice Department will appoint a third-party manager as part of its oversight of Jackson, Miss., following the city’s water crisis earlier in the year. The manager, who has not been named, would be responsible for stabilizing the drinking water system for the city, which saw its second crisis in as many years this August. The department said in a federal court filing Tuesday that the city and the state Department of Health have agreed to the terms of the proposal. The city council voted earlier in November to approve an agreement with the federal government to overhaul the city’s water system. The department also said in its announcement that it is filing a complaint on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) alleging it failed to provide reliable, clean drinking water to residents. “Today the Justice Department is taking action in federal court to address long-standing failures in the city of Jackson’s public drinking water system,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “The Department of Justice takes seriously its responsibility to keep the American people safe and to protect their civil rights. Together with our partners at EPA, we will continue to seek justice for the residents of Jackson, Mississippi. And we will continue to prioritize cases in the communities most burdened by environmental harm.”  “I pledged that EPA would do everything in its power to ensure the people of Jackson have clean and dependable water, now and into the future,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. “While there is much more work ahead, the Justice Department’s action marks a critical moment on the path to securing clean, safe water for Jackson residents. I’m grateful to the Attorney General for his partnership and commitment to this shared vision.” The majority-Black city was left without clean water in August after flooding from the Pearl River knocked out the city’s water treatment plant. While Mississippi’s Republican leadership has said responsibility for fixing infrastructure falls on the city government, city officials have said the city needs at least $1 billion to upgrade its decaying water infrastructure. Following integration in the 1960s, a large percentage of the city’s white residents moved out, taking with them a large part of the city’s tax base. The year before, meanwhile, winter weather led residents to lose access to water for weeks.

A new analysis shows a “crisis” of male reproductive health

For years, scientists across the world have gathered evidence showing declines in sperm quality. Now, new research compiling the results of those studies has found that sperm count has dropped dramatically around the world, and the rate of decline is accelerating. In a new analysis, researchers at Mount Sinai Medical Center, the University of Copenhagen, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, among others, found that sperm count globally dropped by more than half between 1973 and 2018, and that the decline is accelerating: Since 1972, sperm count has dropped by about 1% each year. Since 2000, the annual decrease has been, on average, more than 2.6%. The findings raise concerns that an increasing number of people will need assistance to reproduce, as well as concerns about the overall health of human society, since low sperm count is linked to higher rates of some diseases. And while scientists are still trying to tease out the reasons for the drop, chemical exposures, especially to pesticides, are a likely factor — and climate change may even play a role. Researchers are calling for urgent action to bolster more research into sperm count, determine the causes of the decline, and prevent further deterioration of male reproductive health. “We have clear evidence that there is a crisis in male reproduction,” Hagai Levine, lead author on the study and an epidemiologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told EHN. An “alarming” decline The study builds on the team’s previous research, which showed a decline in sperm count in North America, Europe, Australia, and parts of Asia of 28.5% between 1973 and 2011. Adding data from 38 studies to the new analysis has made the case for sperm decline stronger, Shanna Swan, an author on the paper and a leading reproductive epidemiologist at Mount Sinai, told EHN. “It’s really alarming,” said Swan, who is also an adjunct scientist with Environmental Health Sciences, which publishes EHN.org. Swan authored the book Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race. The research found that the average global sperm count in 2018 was 49 million per milliliter of semen. When a man’s sperm count drops below about 45 million per milliliter, his ability to cause a pregnancy starts dropping dramatically, said Swan. She said the results could mean that in the coming decades, large swaths of the global population of men could be subfertile or infertile, or could require assisted reproduction techniques, like in vitro fertilization (IVF), hormone treatment, or a technique called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), in which sperm are directly injected into an egg. In addition to the drop in average sperm count, Levine said it was surprising that the rate of decline was accelerating, rather than slowing down. “Is there a tipping point, that once you cross, you get an even worse situation?” he said. “That’s something to really pay attention to.” Environmental Health News · A conversation about infertility with Dr. Shanna Swan Overall, said Levine, the results indicate that “something is very wrong with our global modern environment.” Sperm count is not only a reproductive concern, but an indicator for other health problems in men, and is used as a predictor for male longevity. Men with poor sperm count tend to have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and even death, Michael Eisenberg, a professor of urology at Stanford University who was not involved in the research, told EHN. “This decline in sperm count could also suggest other health concerns,” he said. A 2016 study authored by Eisenberg found that diabetes and other diseases were associated with lower reproductive health. However, said Eisenberg, the reason why overall health is linked to sperm quality is still unknown. Eisenberg said the new study on sperm count decline is a “powerful addition” to previous evidence that sperm count across the globe has declined. Reasons for the trendThough the reasons for the drop were not discussed in the paper, scientists have known for decades that certain environmental factors, like exposures to pesticides (such as atrazine, alachlor, and diazinon) and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals, like phthalates, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), can have impacts on reproductive health. Nearly 20 years ago, for example, Swan and other researchers published an analysis of research into links between pesticide exposure and sperm quality, and found that 79% of studies indicated a decrease in sperm quality among those exposed to the chemicals. Diet, activity level, and stress may also play a role.Swan and Levine said exposures to chemicals in the environment and other factors likely all play a substantial role in the sperm count trend. And, the risk factors are related; for example, obesity is a risk factor for lower quality sperm, but certain endocrine-disrupting chemicals — which interfere with how hormones work — are thought to contribute to obesity, as well. Diet is hard to decouple from chemical exposures, too, since pesticide residues linger on much of the food we eat. Related: Count Down — The infertility crisisAdditionally, both Swan and Levine said climate change could be a factor, both due to climate-related stress and actual fluctuations in temperature, since heat waves are linked to decreases in sperm quality.Prenatal exposure may be a contributor, too. Chemical exposures during the male “programming window,” when reproductive traits are formed in utero, have an outsized effect on sperm quality later in life, said Swan. For example, she said, when a man smokes — a known endocrine-disrupting activity — he lowers his sperm count by about 20%. When a male is born to a woman who smokes, his sperm count is reduced by about 50%. Those effects may last for generations before subsequent children and grandchildren return to normal sperm counts.Protecting reproductive healthLevine is optimistic that scientists and policymakers can reverse the trend if they can determine the causes. Swan pointed to the sharp drop in cigarette smoking in the past 50 years as evidence that widespread lifestyle changes are possible, and said that any large-scale adoption of healthier habits, like better diets and more physical activity, can help improve reproductive health. Making individual lifestyle changes like choosing organic, pesticide-free produce and staying away from certain plastics and chemical products can help lower a person’s exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, too. However, doing so can be difficult, especially for disadvantaged populations with less access to fresh foods, higher environmental exposures, and fewer means to purchase safer, non-toxic household goods. To truly tackle the problem, though, much more research is needed, said Swan. One thing she’d like to see would be better tracking of sperm count, similar to how the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks obesity. Levine also said better surveillance tools will be crucial to understanding the problem more deeply. Once humankind “defines a problem and puts our resources and mind into it, we find solutions that we could not have thought about when we started,” said Levine. “It's always theoretically reversible.”

For years, scientists across the world have gathered evidence showing declines in sperm quality. Now, new research compiling the results of those studies has found that sperm count has dropped dramatically around the world, and the rate of decline is accelerating. In a new analysis, researchers at Mount Sinai Medical Center, the University of Copenhagen, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, among others, found that sperm count globally dropped by more than half between 1973 and 2018, and that the decline is accelerating: Since 1972, sperm count has dropped by about 1% each year. Since 2000, the annual decrease has been, on average, more than 2.6%. The findings raise concerns that an increasing number of people will need assistance to reproduce, as well as concerns about the overall health of human society, since low sperm count is linked to higher rates of some diseases. And while scientists are still trying to tease out the reasons for the drop, chemical exposures, especially to pesticides, are a likely factor — and climate change may even play a role. Researchers are calling for urgent action to bolster more research into sperm count, determine the causes of the decline, and prevent further deterioration of male reproductive health. “We have clear evidence that there is a crisis in male reproduction,” Hagai Levine, lead author on the study and an epidemiologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told EHN. An “alarming” decline The study builds on the team’s previous research, which showed a decline in sperm count in North America, Europe, Australia, and parts of Asia of 28.5% between 1973 and 2011. Adding data from 38 studies to the new analysis has made the case for sperm decline stronger, Shanna Swan, an author on the paper and a leading reproductive epidemiologist at Mount Sinai, told EHN. “It’s really alarming,” said Swan, who is also an adjunct scientist with Environmental Health Sciences, which publishes EHN.org. Swan authored the book Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race. The research found that the average global sperm count in 2018 was 49 million per milliliter of semen. When a man’s sperm count drops below about 45 million per milliliter, his ability to cause a pregnancy starts dropping dramatically, said Swan. She said the results could mean that in the coming decades, large swaths of the global population of men could be subfertile or infertile, or could require assisted reproduction techniques, like in vitro fertilization (IVF), hormone treatment, or a technique called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), in which sperm are directly injected into an egg. In addition to the drop in average sperm count, Levine said it was surprising that the rate of decline was accelerating, rather than slowing down. “Is there a tipping point, that once you cross, you get an even worse situation?” he said. “That’s something to really pay attention to.” Environmental Health News · A conversation about infertility with Dr. Shanna Swan Overall, said Levine, the results indicate that “something is very wrong with our global modern environment.” Sperm count is not only a reproductive concern, but an indicator for other health problems in men, and is used as a predictor for male longevity. Men with poor sperm count tend to have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and even death, Michael Eisenberg, a professor of urology at Stanford University who was not involved in the research, told EHN. “This decline in sperm count could also suggest other health concerns,” he said. A 2016 study authored by Eisenberg found that diabetes and other diseases were associated with lower reproductive health. However, said Eisenberg, the reason why overall health is linked to sperm quality is still unknown. Eisenberg said the new study on sperm count decline is a “powerful addition” to previous evidence that sperm count across the globe has declined. Reasons for the trendThough the reasons for the drop were not discussed in the paper, scientists have known for decades that certain environmental factors, like exposures to pesticides (such as atrazine, alachlor, and diazinon) and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals, like phthalates, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), can have impacts on reproductive health. Nearly 20 years ago, for example, Swan and other researchers published an analysis of research into links between pesticide exposure and sperm quality, and found that 79% of studies indicated a decrease in sperm quality among those exposed to the chemicals. Diet, activity level, and stress may also play a role.Swan and Levine said exposures to chemicals in the environment and other factors likely all play a substantial role in the sperm count trend. And, the risk factors are related; for example, obesity is a risk factor for lower quality sperm, but certain endocrine-disrupting chemicals — which interfere with how hormones work — are thought to contribute to obesity, as well. Diet is hard to decouple from chemical exposures, too, since pesticide residues linger on much of the food we eat. Related: Count Down — The infertility crisisAdditionally, both Swan and Levine said climate change could be a factor, both due to climate-related stress and actual fluctuations in temperature, since heat waves are linked to decreases in sperm quality.Prenatal exposure may be a contributor, too. Chemical exposures during the male “programming window,” when reproductive traits are formed in utero, have an outsized effect on sperm quality later in life, said Swan. For example, she said, when a man smokes — a known endocrine-disrupting activity — he lowers his sperm count by about 20%. When a male is born to a woman who smokes, his sperm count is reduced by about 50%. Those effects may last for generations before subsequent children and grandchildren return to normal sperm counts.Protecting reproductive healthLevine is optimistic that scientists and policymakers can reverse the trend if they can determine the causes. Swan pointed to the sharp drop in cigarette smoking in the past 50 years as evidence that widespread lifestyle changes are possible, and said that any large-scale adoption of healthier habits, like better diets and more physical activity, can help improve reproductive health. Making individual lifestyle changes like choosing organic, pesticide-free produce and staying away from certain plastics and chemical products can help lower a person’s exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, too. However, doing so can be difficult, especially for disadvantaged populations with less access to fresh foods, higher environmental exposures, and fewer means to purchase safer, non-toxic household goods. To truly tackle the problem, though, much more research is needed, said Swan. One thing she’d like to see would be better tracking of sperm count, similar to how the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks obesity. Levine also said better surveillance tools will be crucial to understanding the problem more deeply. Once humankind “defines a problem and puts our resources and mind into it, we find solutions that we could not have thought about when we started,” said Levine. “It's always theoretically reversible.”

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