cover image Altering Eden

Altering Eden

Deborah Cadbury, Cadbury. St. Martin's Press, $23.95 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-312-24396-8

With the world population now exceeding six billion, it may seem strange that scientists are worried about threats to human fertility. Yet dramatic decreases in human sperm counts (a 50% decline since the 1940s) and soaring rates of testicular cancer suggest that there is cause for concern. Science journalist Cadbury, here expanding her Emmy-winning Horizon program ""Assault on the Male,"" presents evidence that the widespread use of synthetic chemicals has disrupted our and other animals' natural hormonal systems, in effect flooding them with megadoses of estrogenlike substances that ""feminize"" males and contribute to breast cancer and myriad other problems. The list of suspect chemicals is alarming: DES, DDT, PCBs, plastics (used in everything from washing machines to dental sealants and food packaging), even birth-control pills. Traces of these substances have been detected in soil, water, wildlife and humans from around the globe, and have been implicated in such conditions as animal hermaphroditism, impaired sperm quality, microphallus, prostate cancer, endometriosis and even impaired intelligence. How researchers began to recognize the problem and piece together its clues is a compelling and frightening story, which Cadbury tells with journalistic verve. Though she admits that a definite causal relationship between chemical exposure and reproductive abnormalities has not yet been proven, she finds the evidence compelling. This is a chilling account of industrialization's adverse--and perhaps irreversible--effects. (Oct.)