My introduction to Our Stolen Future came about ten years ago at a sustainable packing conference when a young German woman sat down at our table for lunch and asked: “Did you know that male sperm counts have gone down 50 percent in the last 50 years?”
I lost my appetite, but at least my interest in this topic was successfully piqued.
Our Stolen Future deals with endocrine disruptors and endocrine mimickers present in-among other things-plastic packaging that, through coming into contact with food, reduces male sperm count. When Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring came out 40 years ago, DDT was already widely used to control mosquitoes.
Although DDT did have an impact in controlling malaria, it also had a fatal impact on wildlife: and toxic chemicals made their way into the human food chain through the birds and fish that fed on these DDT-exposed mosquitoes.
In fact, students at my university (years before I attended) collected some dead birds around campus after an aerial spraying of DDT, hung them from a clothesline strung across the middle of campus and announced with a scoreboard: DDT 15, Birds 0. Our Stolen Future is a somewhat more scientific attempt to sound the alarm on chemicals in plastics, PCBs and other chemicals that infiltrate our ecosystem on a daily basis.
Like DES (a synthetic female hormone used to stop breast milk and as a ‘morning after’ pill, and readily available to woman for 40 years), DDT successfully mimics natural estrogen.
Possible DES side-effects include vaginal cancer, uterine deformities, miscarriages, undescended testicles and devastated T-helper cells (which are essential to the body’s immune system).
Hormones and hormone receptors fit together like lock and key and activate different responses at required times, but when hormone mimics or hormone blockers (which make it impossible for natural hormones to bind to the receptors) enter the body through DDT, DES or a host of other chemicals in plastics and pesticides, the responses become incorrect.
PCBs and other persistent chemicals like dioxins and furans become magnified and concentrated as they move up the food chain-stored in fatty tissues until they reach the top predators. As PCBs move from phytoplankton to zooplankton to larger and larger fish and then to herring gulls, the chemical concentration in animal tissue can be magnified up to 25 million times!
Effects on the animal kingdom range from insufficiently thick eggshells and infertile populations to birth defects and cancer. Synthetic chemicals often confuse the hormone-producing glands (e.g. the thyroid and pituitary), which means that the body doesn’t know what to turn on, turn off, speed up or slow down, and this can cause defects or disease in organs like the testicles, ovaries and pancreas.
Water run through PVC tubing comes out containing Pnonylphenol, which is not only added to polystyrene and PVC as an antioxidant and to make plastics more stable, but is also found in contraceptive creams like nonoxynol-9. Also, polycarbonates and plastic linings of food tins contain P-nonylphenol and bisphenol-A, which leach in to water and food from packaging and act as hormone blockers.
Even reusable plastic bottles can seriously damage our health. For such a scientifically daunting subject, the authors of Our Stolen Future have produced a very readable and understandable book that even people without a solid scientific background can appreciate.