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Date: Thu, 27 Jan 94 11:25:39 -0500
From: U of MD Gopher <email@example.com>
Subject: 94-01-12-15: RACHEL: PCBs REDUCE PENIS SIZE
Date: Wed, 12 Jan 1994 14:31:13 CST
From: Peter Montague <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: RACHEL: PCBs REDUCE PENIS SIZE
To: Multiple recipients of list ACTIV-L <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.missouri.edu>
RACHEL'S HAZARDOUS WASTE NEWS #372
---January 13, 1994---
PCBs DIMINISH PENIS SIZE
Environmental Research Foundation
P.O. Box 5036, Annapolis, MD 21403
Fax (410) 263-8944; Internet: email@example.com
Back issues available via anonymous ftp from
PCBS DIMINISH PENIS SIZE
Boys in Taiwan exposed to PCBs while in their mothers' womb
develop smaller penises as they mature, compared to normal boys
in Taiwan, according to a brief article this month in SCIENTIFIC
AMERICAN. PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are a group of
industrial chemicals manufactured and released into the
environment in megaton quantities by Monsanto and its licensees
between 1929 and 1976.
The finding of small penises among PCB-exposed human males tends
to confirm that humans and wildlife are affected similarly by
exposure to "endocrine-disrupting chemicals" such as PCBs,
dioxin, DDT, and dozens of others. (See RHWN #249, #263, #264,
#323, #327, #334, #337, #364, #365.) The endocrine system, in
wildlife and humans, is a complex set of bodily organs and
tissues whose activities are coordinated by chemical messengers,
called hormones, that control growth, development and behavior.
In recent years, evidence has accumulated that several dozen
pesticides and other industrial chemicals mimic, or interfere
with, hormones and thus disrupt the endrocine system. In both
wildlife and humans, it is the reproductive system seems most
prone to disruption by hormone-like industrial pollutants.
SCIENCE NEWS reported this month that male alligators exposed to
pesticides in Florida are having difficulty reproducing, partly
because their penises are not developing to normal size.
SCIENCE NEWS presented evidence from several sources that males
of many wildlife species (birds, fish, amphibians, and mammals)
are being "feminized" by exposure to low levels of pesticides and
other industrial chemicals that have been released into the
environment in huge quantities since World War II.
The boys in Taiwan were born to mothers who unwittingly consumed
PCB-contaminated rice oil during a 10-month period in 1979. As
many as 2000 people consumed the contaminated oil. The children
consumed no contaminated oil themselves; they were exposed before
birth to PCBs that were carried by their mothers' blood and
crossed the placenta; they may have also been exposed shortly
after birth by drinking their mothers' milk. The rice oil
contained 100 parts per million (ppm) PCBs and 0.1 ppm PCDFs
[polychlorinated dibenzofurans, a potent dioxin-like poison].
A new mother in the U.S. today has an average of one ppm PCBs in
her breast milk.
The children in Taiwan have been observed medically for many
years. They are known as the "yucheng" (or "oil disease")
children. A similar PCB contamination event ("yusho") occurred
in Japan in 1968.
When 115 yucheng children were examined in 1985 they were less
developed than a control group of children on 32 of 33 different
measures. They were delayed, compared to controls, in the age at
which they performed tasks such as saying phrases and sentences,
turning pages, carrying out requests, pointing to body parts,
holding pencils, and catching a ball.
The yucheng children also had a variety of physical defects at
birth, including dark colored heads, faces and genitals, and
abnormal nails that were often dark and ridged, split, or
These children provided the first direct evidence that PCBs are
teratogenic [birth-defect-producing] in humans. Since then,
other studies have shown that American children with "normal"
levels of PCBs in their blood show slight physical, mental and
In North Carolina, 912 infants have been followed from birth.
Their mothers had no unusual PCB exposures but, like all
Americans, they carry PCBs in their body tissues. Among 866
North Carolina infants tested, higher PCBs in mother's milk was
correlated with hypotonicity [loss of muscle tone] and abnormally
weak reflexes. Subsequent studies of 802 of the North Carolina
children at ages 6 months and 12 months revealed those with
higher levels of PCBs had poorer performance on tests requiring
fine motor coordination.
Researchers reviewing the history of these children conclude,
"There is thus consistent evidence that prenatal exposure to
levels of PCBs commonly encountered in the U.S. produces
detectable effects on motor maturation and some evidence of
impaired infant learning." In North Carolina, about 5% of the
children have so far shown measurable effects related to PCB
exposure, and in a Michigan study of children whose mothers ate
fish from Lake Michigan (almost all of which are contaminated
with PCBs), somewhat more than 5% of the children are showing
At age 4, children in the Michigan group with higher PCBs levels
weighed 10% (4 pounds) less than children with lower PCB levels.
The effect was particularly significant in girls. In addition,
the Michigan children were ranked according to an "activity"
index, and higher PCB levels were correlated with children who
were unusually "quiet and inactive." These effects on growth and
behavior were specifically correlated with exposure to PCBs
before birth and not with exposure after birth. This leads
researchers to conclude that PCBs attack the central nervous
system more successfully during its earlier developmental
The information from Taiwan about male genital development tends
to confirm that PCB exposure in the womb has effects different
from, and more powerful than, those caused by PCB exposure in
later life. The same seems to be true in wildlife as well.
Alligator eggs exposed to DDT or a related pesticide, dicophol,
produce male alligators with abnormal sex hormones (estrogen and
testosterone) in their blood, leading to growth of penises
one-third to one-half normal size, and subsequent reproductive
The Florida panther, an endangered species, is also failing to
reproduce itself. There are only 30 to 50 panthers remaining,
and the reason for the decline has been a mystery. Now
researchers have reported that between 1985 and 1990, 67 percent
of male panthers were born with one or more undescended
testicles, a condition known as cryptorchidism. In England and
the U.S., cryptorchidism has more than doubled in men during the
last four decades. Furthermore, some Florida panthers are
sterile and others produce abnormal or deformed sperm. It was
reported last year that sperm count in men in industrialized
countries has dropped 50% during the past 50 years.
Two years ago, researchers at University of Wisconsin reported
that low prenatal [before birth] exposures to dioxin feminized
the behavior of male rats during adulthood, and sharply reduced
their production of sperm. "Indeed," says Janet Raloff in
SCIENCE NEWS, "the researchers concluded, the developing male
reproductive system appears to be more sensitive to the effects
of this hormone-like toxicant [dioxin] than any other organ or
The ability of industrial chemicals to damage the reproductive
systems of wildlife has been observed since the 1950s when DDT
was linked to eggshell thinning in many bird species, but
humans have been slow to get the message. Petrochemical
corporations and agricultural giants continually dump billions of
pounds of endocrine-disrupting toxins into the environment each
year. Government goes along.
Scientists continue to study birds, uncovering new evidence of
reproductive damage. Dr. Michael Fry at University of
California, Davis, has been studying Western gulls on Santa
Barbara Island, where in recent years he has begun to observe
"lesbian gulls," meaning female-female pairing. He attributes
this behavior partly to male gulls' growing indifference to sex.
Examination reveals that the male gulls have feminized sex organs
and have been "chemically castrated" by DDT and other
environmental pollutants, Fry says.
Perhaps the new information about small penises in alligators and
humans will finally get the attention of someone high up in
--Peter Montague, Ph.D.
 Marguerite Holloway, "Dioxin Indictment," SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN
Vol. 270 (January 1994), pg. 25.
 Kristin Bryan Thomas and Theo Colborn, "Organo-chlorine
Endocrine Disruptors in Human Tissue," in Theo Colborn and
Coralie Clement, editors, CHEMICALLY-INDUCED ALTERATIONS IN
SEXUAL AND FUNCTIONAL DEVELOPMENT: THE WILDLIFE/HUMAN CONNECTION
[Advances in Modern Environmental Toxicology Vol. XXI]
(Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Scientific Publishing Co., 1992).
 Janet Raloff, "The Gender Benders," SCIENCE NEWS Vol. 145
(January 8, 1994), pgs. 24-27. And see J. Raloff, "Perinatal
dioxin feminizes male rats," SCIENCE NEWS Vol. 141 (May 30,
1992), pg. 359, and Janet Raloff, "EcoCancers," SCIENCE NEWS Vol.
144 (July 3, 1993), pgs. 10-13. See also: Bette Hileman, "The
Great Lakes Cleanup Effort," C&EN [CHEMICAL & ENGINEERING NEWS]
February 8, 1988, pgs. 22-39; and: Bette Hileman, "Concerns
Broaden over Chlorine and Chlorinated Hydrocarbons," C&EN
[CHEMICAL & ENGINEERING NEWS] April 19, 1993, pgs. 11-20.
 Walter J. Rogan and others, "Congenital Poisoning by
Polychlorinated Biphenyls and Their Contaminants in Taiwan,"
SCIENCE Vol. 241 (July 15, 1988), pgs. 334-336.
 Gina Kolata, "PCB Exposure Linked to Birth Defects in
Taiwan," NEW YORK TIMES August 2, 1988, pg. C3.
 Hugh A. Tilson and others, "Polychlorinated Biphenyls and the
Developing Nervous System: Cross-Species Comparisons,"
NEUROTOXICOLOGY AND TERATOLOGY Vol. 12 (1990), pgs. 239-248.
 Joseph L. Jacobson and others, "Effects of Exposure to PCBs
and Related Compounds on Growth and Activity in Children,"
NEUROTOXICOLOGY AND TERATOLOGY Vol. 12 (1990), pgs. 319-326.
 A. Giwercman and N.E. Skakkebaek, "The human testis--an organ
at risk?" INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF ANDROLOGY Vol. 15 (1992), pgs.
 Elisabeth Carlsen and others, "Evidence for decreasing
quality of semen during past 50 years," BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL
Vol. 305 (1992), pgs. 609-613.
 Thomas A. Mably and others, "IN UTERO and Lactational
Exposure of Male Rats to 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-P-dioxin. 1.
Effects on Androgenic Status." TOXICOLOGY AND APPLIED
PHARMACOLOGY Vol. 114 (May, 1992), pgs. 97-107. And: Thomas A.
Mably and others, "IN UTERO and Lactational Exposure of Male Rats
to 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-P-dioxin. 2. Effects on Sexual
Behavior and the Regulation of Luteinizing Hormone Secretion in
Adulthood." TOXICOLOGY AND APPLIED PHARMACOLOGY Vol. 114 (May,
1992), pgs. 108-117. And: Thomas A. Mably and others, "IN UTERO
and Lactational Exposure of Male Rats to
2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-P-dioxin. 3. Effects on
Spermatogenesis and Reproductive Capability." TOXICOLOGY AND
APPLIED PHARMACOLOGY Vol. 114 (May, 1992), pgs. 118-126.
 For example, see Robert Risebrough and Virginia Brodine,
"More Letters in the Wind," in Sheldon Novick and Dorothy
Cottrell, editors, OUR WORLD IN PERIL: AN ENVIRONMENT REVIEW
(Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett, 1971), pgs. 243-255.
Descriptor terms: taiwan; china; pcbs; sexual development;
reproductive system; endocrine system; monsanto; wildlife; penis;
penises; hormones; endocrine disruptors; pesticides; alligators;
fl; florida; pcdfs; polychlorinated dibenzofurans;
polychlorinated biphenyls; breast milk; yucheng; yusho; japan;
developmental disorders; teratogens; birth defects; north
carolina; us; michigan; lake michigan; fish; estrogen;
testosterone; florida panther; undescended testicles;
cryptorchidism; sperm; rats; dioxin; ddt; dde; dicophol; western
gulls; santa barbara island; ca; california;