Well this is terrifying news. According to two Melbourne-based scientists, plastics are causing genital defects in new born baby boys, and resulting in smaller penises.
Their assertion is based on a metadata analysis of different studies showing the effects of plastic and associated chemicals on animals and humans, and the duo have identified a corresponding increase in hypospadia (when the opening of the penis is on the underside rather than the tip).
“Exposure to these chemicals, this is the No.1 reproductive issue for men,” Associate Professor Andrew Pask told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Along with his colleague Dr. Mark Green, Dr. Pask identifies several chemicals that are known to have negative effects on the health of humans, and are consumed every day either through food contamination or even in our water.
And it seems that Green and Pask aren’t the first to identify a link between plastic consumption and genital birth defects.
A 2014 study by the Department of Health Sciences, Karlstad University, Sweden, identified the effects of Phthalates, a common component of many products, on young males. In the Swedish study, scientists identified a significant shortening of the distance between the anus and the penis.
“These findings call into question the safety,” says the report. “Particularly because a shorter male AGD (distance from the anus to the genitals) has been shown to relate to male genital birth defects in children and impaired reproductive function in adult males and the fact that human levels of DiNP (diisononyl phthalate) are increasing globally.”
The Swedish study almost replicates the findings of a 2005 American study from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, and with exposure to plastics only on the rise, there is certain merit to validate ongoing research.
“No one likes to talk about this. Often parents don’t even like to tell their kids they had it (hypospadia) – it gets surgically repaired but often the surgeries don’t work very well,” says Dr Pask.
“When it’s [rate of incidence] doubling, it cannot be genetic defects – it takes years for that to spread through a population. So we know it has to be environmental in origin.”
The threat of plastic to our health has been a hot top this year, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) currently conducting a review into the safety of drinking bottled water after a new study of the worlds top brands found that 90 per cent contained microplastics. On average, the study conducted by the State University of NY on behalf of Orb Media, found an average of 325 tiny plastic particles per litre of drinking water.
"The public are obviously going to be concerned about whether this is going to make them sick in the short term and the long term,” said Bruce Gordon of WHO when talking to the BBC.
"When we think about the composition of the plastic, whether there might be toxins in it, to what extent they might carry harmful constituents, what actually the particles might do in the body – there's just not the research there to tell us," said Gordon, before this new analysis was released.