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Scientists alarmed after discovering microplastics in human semen: 'Individuals without occupational exposures'

These findings serve as a potential explanation for a worldwide decline in male fertility rates.

These findings serve as a potential explanation for a worldwide decline in male fertility rates.

Photo Credit: iStock

Microplastics are a pervasive issue that has reached seemingly every corner of Earth, but one new study has detected the material in an unlikely location: semen.

What happened?

In an analysis published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, Chinese public health researchers found microplastics in every sample collected from a pool of 36 healthy male adults.

The scientists drew the participants from the eastern Chinese city of Jinan, none of whom work in the plastic industry. The experiment aimed to "examine microplastic presence, abundance, polymer types, and associations with semen quality parameters in individuals without occupational exposures."

The researchers prepared the semen samples for microscopic analysis by mixing them with a chemical solution and filtering the fluid. Microplastics showed up in all of the samples, with the team identifying eight plastic polymers.

Polystyrene had the highest rate of appearance at 31%, followed by polyethylene and polyvinyl chloride at 14% apiece. Additionally, samples with traces of PVC correlated to lower sperm motility. 

Why is microplastics in semen concerning?

Though the extent of harm that microplastics can cause to humans is unknown, Medical Xpress noted that the decreased sperm motility exhibited by samples with polyvinyl chloride serves as a potential explanation for a worldwide decline in male fertility rates. 

The findings underscore a larger issue about the ubiquity of microplastics and how they affect the male reproductive system.

A similar study that discovered polyethylene and polyvinyl chloride particles in all 23 human testes it analyzed suggested that the latter could cause endocrine disruption and interfere with the development of sperm cells.

🗣️ What of these benefits would most effectively motivate you to use fewer plastic-packaged cleaning products?

🔘 Freeing up shelf space ✨

🔘 Avoiding toxins and microplastics ☠️

🔘 Saving money 💰

🔘 Not interested 🚫

Another study observed that phthalates — a constituent that makes plastics more durable — may negatively impact sperm count, health, and motility.

It's a concerning trend with a bleak future, considering the wide-ranging applications of polystyrene, polyethylene, and polyvinyl chloride in products like food containers, water bottles, and packaging. 

What's being done to mitigate microplastic pollution?

Microplastics have become impossible to avoid. Scientists have detected them everywhere, from the clouds covering Japan's Mount Fuji to the droppings of penguins living in Antarctica.

That makes developments — like a magnetic adsorbent that can remove microplastic contamination from water — crucial in limiting the microplastics we inhale or ingest. Other promising inventions include a filter that can capture microplastics from our laundry and a robotic fish that can trap microplastics as it swims.

In the meantime, you can limit your exposure to microplastics by cutting down on single-use plastics and switching to powdered detergent and bar shampoo. 

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