Why are sperm counts so low in the show-me state?
Surrounded by agriculture powerhouses Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, and Illinois, Missouri sits at the southern edge of the heartland.
Are the region’s titanic annual lashings of agrichemicals — synthetic and mined fertilizers, as well as poisons designed to kill bugs, weeds, and mold — leaching into drinking water and doing creepy things to the state’s citizens? And what about manure from the stunning concentration of concentrated-animal feedlot operations (CAFOs) that have sprung up in Iowa, et al, over the past 15 years?
Elizabeth Royte, author of the important new book Bottlemania, showed in devastating detail in her Grist article last year that “the breadbasket is poisoning its own water supply.” Her piece focused on the Missouri River flood plane.
And now comes evidence that something ain’t right in central Missouri, writes reporter T.J. Greaney in an excellent article in the Columbia Tribune.
Men in the area show a consistent pattern of significantly lower-than-normal sperm counts. Greaney cites an Environmental Health Perspectives study showing that men in Columbia have sharply lower average sperm counts (58.7 per milliliter) than their counterparts in Los Angeles (80.8), New York (102.9), and Minneapolis (98.6).
And he quotes two medical professionals who recently moved into the area and were startled at the volume of fertility complaints they got from male patients, and were even more startled when colleagues assured them the situation was normal — for Missouri.
Their stories are part of a chorus of local people who work in the field of male fertility asking questions about low sperm counts in Mid-Missouri. Some suspect pesticides have percolated into ground water, but no definitive link is known. They say they are frustrated by the lack of attention to the problem and the lack of funding for further research.
Greaney notes that two pesticides — diazinon and metolachlor — have shown up in samples from Missouri men with low sperm counts. Neither is currently regulated by the EPA as a drinking-water contaminant.
Missouri healthcare providers have finally managed to convince the Center for Disease Control to do follow-up research on the problem — to be released this summer. I’ll keep my eye on this story.