Fear of a female planet

Are chemicals making Inuit males an endangered species?


Carol Lloyd
September 13, 2007 7:50PM (UTC)

Holy shit. Ladies in favor of an all-female planet, be careful what you wish for.

The Arctic seems to be home to yet another endangered species, according to news from the Guardian today. We're not talking polar bears living on increasingly thin ice or Peary caribous starving from global warming. Actually, we're not even talking about a species at all (unless you happen to be a fifth-grade girl scribbling angrily in her diary), but half a species, our very own male half.

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Apparently, the Inuit -- the 150,000 or so indigenous peoples that populate the northern regions of Russia, Canada and Greenland -- are giving birth to many more girls than boys. According to scientists from the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, some Inuit villages are producing twice as many girls as boys and, in one village studied, only girls have been born in recent years.

It's tempting to imagine global solutions to the sex imbalance such as arranged marriages between Indian boys (from girl-starved regions) and Inuit women, but the implications of this news are too harrowing for absurdist digressions. The baby-girl boom is being blamed on the high levels of estrogen-mimicking, man-made chemicals in Inuit mothers' blood. Scientists found that the higher the amount of chemicals such as PCBs, flame retardants and DDT in an Inuit woman's blood, the fewer boys she gave birth to, suggesting that hormone-mimicking chemicals are triggering sex changes during the first three weeks of pregnancy. It was also discovered that boys who are born in Russian Arctic villages suffer from being underweight and premature.

According to the scientists, these endocrine disruptors are accumulating in polar bears, whales and other animals high on the Arctic food chain in concentrations of 1 million times greater than their levels in plankton. Since Inuit communities traditionally consume these animals, the scientists assume that the women are ingesting the chemicals through their diet. The Guardian article covered the scientists' presentation at an environmental symposium of religious, scientific and environmental leaders in Greenland's capital, Godthab, Wednesday.

Although this is obviously a disaster for Inuit communities, it doesn't take a conspiracy theorist to see this as a global canary in a chemical mine. According to the National Resources Defense Council Web site, most of the 2,000 chemicals that enter the market every year "do not go through even the simplest tests to determine toxicity." And though the findings are still controversial, there are increasing concerns about the long-term implications of endocrine disruptors for animal and human health. Recently Salon reported on the growing debate around bisphenol A, an endocrine-disrupting element in flame retardants and plastic products. As the Guardian noted, the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences recently published a study finding that in the U.S. and Japan, the historical excess of boys over girls is beginning to change, but failed to pinpoint the cause. (Could this reflect American and Japanese parents' tinkering with nature to get the daughter they always wanted? Dunno.) Though DDT and PCBs are no longer produced in the U.S., they are still present in the environment, working their way through a food chain possibly near you.

If nothing else, this is news that makes me think about the novel "Herland" in a whole new light -- not as a bit of charming feminist Victoriana but a sci-fi horror story.


Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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