Sustainability Lecture stresses effects of widespread chemicals on reproductive, brain health

Public health physician David O. Carpenter delivered the President’s 2017 Sustainability Lecture in Newton Lecture Hall to commemorate the college’s celebration of Sustainability Month on Wednesday Oct. 4. Carpenter’s speech asked, ““Is the Human Race Sustainable After the Age of Chemicals?”

President Denise Battles began by introducing Carpenter, the director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany. He also serves as a professor of environmental health sciences at Albany’s School of Public Health.

Sustainability practices establish a connection between contemporary behaviors and the accessibility of natural resources to future generations, according to the UCLA Sustainability Committee’s website. Adhering to a sustainable lifestyle promotes health and vitality by operating on the supposition that all resources are finite—thus demanding their conservation.

Carpenter framed his presentation by defining the three primary aspects of sustainability: environment, society and economics. He focused the presentation on the environmental aspect of sustainability—specifically reproduction and brain function. 

The core of Carpenter’s presentation centered on how chemicals that are common in society affect both reproductive health and brain function, including IQs. 

“We have chemicals in our air, we have chemicals in our water, we have chemicals in our food and we put them in our bodies,” he said. “We tend not to think much about them and what those are doing to our health.”

Carpenter discussed how many chemicals are interfering with sex hormones. There has been a significant drop in average sperm count among men in recent decades, according to Carpenter. He explained that there is no medical reason that justifies this decreased sperm count. Low sperm count reflects the larger pattern of chemicals negatively influencing reproductive health. 

In addition, excessive estrogen has increasingly been detected in men and women. The rise in estrogen levels—an unhealthy symptom of the changing environment—can be attributed to chemicals, according to Carpenter. 

The exposure to excessive chemicals has also been affecting women’s reproduction by increasing the rate of puberty in adolescents. Young girls, consequently, are menstruating earlier than normal, Carpenter said. 

Carpenter also discussed how chemical exposure before and after birth could negatively impact an individual’s IQ. Chemicals that contribute to a lower IQ include: lead, arsenic, some pesticides and phthalates, which are found in most plastics. These chemicals can be introduced to babies even before they are born. 

 “[Prenatal chemical exposure] is a very serious issue,” Carpenter said. “It’s particularly a serious issue for those of you who are females because what you eat today—what you put in your body today—is going to influence your child.”

Carpenter concluded the lecture by imploring the audience members to better understand the health implications of their personal lifestyles. Having a better grasp of personal and environmental challenges gives each person a greater chance in aiding sustainability efforts.u