Environment, Health Impact, Protect Yourself, Reduce Pollution

Industrial pollution and missing testicles

25 · Jun · 2021
Photograph by: Patrick Hendry on Unsplash.com

Mонгол хэлээр уншиx | Read in Mongolian

By Munkhbayar Bayartsengel Elkins

Could environmental pollution from industry contribute to the increase of underdeveloped testicles?

A recent study by La Moal et al. (2021) highlighted an alarming trend between industrial pollutants and underdeveloped testicles. The study showed that overexposure to industrial pollutants, mainly from large industrial zones, increases the risk of cryptorchidism (krip-tor-ki-dizm)—a condition where one or both testes fail to move into the proper position in the scrotum. 

Illustration of male reproductive organs depicting undescended testicle, descended testicle, and scrotum.
Cryptorchidism is a congenital disorder in boys marked by the absence of the testes due to failure of descent from the abdominal cavity. It is found within 1% to 8% of babies born and will be resolved naturally or will require surgery. Cryptorchidism is linked to a higher risk of fertility problems and testicular cancer. (Photo taken from “Cryptorchidism” — Urology Care Foundation).

This study was groundbreaking, surveying metropolitan cities and regions in France where cases of cryptorchidism were unusually high. The researchers prioritized recorded cases of cryptorchidism surgery from Public Health France as their dataset and outcome of interest. This led to the identification of 22 clusters of cryptorchidism surgeries throughout France. Consequently, the study found that the majority of cases were in areas with active industrial zones or had them previously. 

The research is one of the first studies to use nationwide samples over a long time period, which allows for enhanced data analysis and easier trend identification. The methods and findings of this study pave the way for future research into industrial pollution and health. These are essential for understanding the long-term effects of pollution exposure.

It is important to note, however, that the findings showcase a correlation between industrial pollution and cryptorchidism, not a causal link. Nevertheless, this is a worrying trend and should be further explored.  

Established risk factors of cryptorchidism include maternal smoking, premature birth, and low socioeconomic status. Interestingly, all of these risk factors are common in industrial areas where pollutants are at large. In industrial zones where factories and mining dominate, low socioeconomic status is often prevalent. Therefore, it is not clear if industrial pollution directly leads to cryptorchidism, or if the industrial living area is a host to other risk factors for cryptochidism.

There is, however, existing research linking cryptorchidism with everyday chemicals, such as pesticides (chemicals used to control pests) and phthalates (chemicals used to enhance qualities of plastic), suggesting an association between pollutants and cryptorchidism. But the exact mechanism for how pollution may correlate with or cause cryptorchidism is not well understood. The research at hand does not explore this mechanism or how industrial pollutants may interact with everyday chemicals to increase the risk for cryptochidism.

The research is innovative, covering new grounds with a large sample size allowing refined quantitative analysis. However, there are many confounders undermining a potential causal link. Thus, this research should be understood as a gateway to better understand the relationship between industrial pollutants and cryptorchidism. 

Many of the long-term effects of air pollution on human health are still widely unknown and are being researched. Still, there is a sufficient amount of research to prove that exposure to air pollution can lead to all sorts of short-term and long-term health effects. Subscribe to our newsletter to receive the latest updates in air pollution findings, and use the resources on our website to learn how to take action against air pollution! 

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