Deborah Blum and the NYT need a chemistry lesson badly

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It never stops. Monday: Phthalates, Tuesday: BPA, Wednesday: Phthalates, Thursday: BPA, Friday: Phthalates ¦.

It s a good thing there aren t more days in the week, cause this could get awfully tiresome.

But on March 21st (a Friday) those of us who were unfortunate enough to stumble upon Deborah Blum s piece A Plastic Threat to Male Fertility were treated to a world-classless tutorial on (of course) phthalates which come across as one of the most dangerous chemicals on earth if you believe any of this nonsense.

And, just for the sake of humor, we should point out that the new study that Blum was citing throws another horrible toxin, BPA, under the bus, concluding, Neither female nor male BPA concentration was associated with [time to pregnancy].

Uh-oh. Do we have a biochemical equivalent to Dueling Banjos from Deliverance going on here?

The op-ed contains all the tried and false allegations against phthalates (which are oily organic compounds that are used to soften and shape plastics): they are charged with disrupting endocrines, decreased fertility, birth defects, cancer, diabetes, and sperm damage in men.

But, according to Dr. Harry Fisch, of the Departments of Urology and Reproductive Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, the phthalate scare originated from a seminal (sorry, we couldn t resist), but highly flawed 1992 paper by Carlsen, et. al., in BMJ entitled Evidence for decreasing quality of semen during past 50 years.

Dr. Fisch, among others, has picked this study to bits. His 1993 paper says, Allegations for a worldwide decline in semen parameter values have not withstood scientific scrutiny. Methodological flaws in an influential 1992 paper ¦ and studies that have been published since 1992 are reviewed. Of the 35 major studies of time trends in semen quality reviewed here, eight (a total of 18 109 men) suggest a decline in semen quality; 21 (112 386 men) show either no change or an increase in semen quality; and six (26 007 men) show ambiguous or conflicting results.

ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom comments, It takes some selective blindness to conclude that phthalates which showed a decrease in semen quality in 8 of 35 reviewed studies are really reproductive toxins. Those are even worse odds than mine at the blackjack table.

He adds, Phthalates have been in use for almost 100 years. It is reasonable to question why, as of 1992 they suddenly started producing babies with antlers. There are very few people alive today who have not been exposed to these chemicals. Why the fuss now? Could it be grant money? Wouldn t surprise me.

ACSH s Dr. Gil Ross added this: Blum s attempt to scare the public, especially couples trying to conceive, is based upon a ridiculous paper in Fertility and Sterility, which is apparently doing its peer-review blindfolded. Without going into detail, suffice it to say that the study would not have passed muster in a high-school AP biology class yet the Times blog uses it to alarm its readers about a group of chemicals that have been attacked repeatedly, without anyone having been harmed.