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Girls Will Be Boys

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By Seventh Generation

Throughout human history, the determination of the sex of one's children could best characterized a cosmic crap shoot. Regardless of whatever physical or metaphysical factors were involved, the process by which babies became boys or girls was an utter mystery at best. Now modern chemistry has provided a way to help moms and dads avoid that tiresome guessing game. Want a baby boy? Just chug a few gallons of PCBs and let science do the rest!

Researchers have found that men who have high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in their blood are more likely to sire boys than girls. The study at Michigan State University examined the birth patterns of almost 400 families who live near Lake Michigan and frequently consume fish taken from the lake, a body of water known to be polluted with a wide variety of persistent industrial chemicals including PCBs.

According to the study's authors, 208 children were fathered by those men found to have the highest blood PCB levels. Of these children, 57% were boys, an increase of 6% from the statistical norm of 51%. Interestingly, the PCB blood levels of the mothers in the study did not appear to affect the sex outcome.

Although the process by which PCBs affect the sex of developing fetuses could not be determined by the study, and the population sample itself was relatively small, the researchers said the results nonetheless made it clear that something of unhealthy developmental significance was happening as a result of exposure to environmental pollution.

Of course, persistent chlorinated pollutants in general, and PCBs in particular have been known for years as disruptors of human biology, especially of the endocrine, or hormonal, system. But their influence on sexual outcomes remains largely unexplored, and what little evidence exists is often in conflict. For example, after a 1976 dioxin incident in Italy, families exposed to the PCB-related toxin subsequently gave birth to more girls than boys. Yet soldiers exposed to dioxin-laced Agent Orange in Vietnam fathered a preponderance of boys.

As if a further lesson here were needed, it should also be noted that even though PCBs were banned in North America in 1979, they still remain present in the Great Lakes at dangerous levels a quarter of a century later, a fact which testifies to the long-lived hazards of persistent pollutants wherever they roam.