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The Human Experiment: Exploring the rise in reproductive problems

Therese Kerr believes the beauty products she used to coat her body in are to blame for the bout of endometriosis she suffered when she was 30.

"Without a doubt," says Kerr, who also had her spleen removed because of tumours in 2001.

For Kerr, mother of Miranda and son Matthew, the endometriosis was "so severe" she was unable to have the four children she longed for.

"I lathered myself in perfumes and creams, not knowing the impact," says Kerr, 49, who has her own line of organic personal care products. "The very things we think are making us feminine are taking our femininity away, causing us not to be able to have children."

Professor Ian Rae of Melbourne University and former President of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute however has his doubts.

"Endometriosis is not usually associated with exposure to chemical substances so I think it's unlikely that Ms Kerr's endometriosis was caused by the perfumes and cosmetics she used," says Rae.

But with reproductive problems on the rise many, like Kerr, are questioning the role of some of the chemicals we are exposed to. 

A new documentary by Sean Penn called The Human Experiment, that Kerr has helped to bring to Australia, explores the issue.   

Of the 80,000-odd toxins available in America, for instance, only a handful have been tested, the film says. Yet they are found in everything from perfume to make-up and personal care products as well as in our food and food packaging. 

According to the film's press release, The Human Experiment "lifts the veil on the shocking reality that thousands of untested chemicals are in our everyday products, our homes and inside of us".

"It's true worldwide that in the past many chemicals were introduced onto the market with very little testing," says Professor Rae.

"More stringent testing is required of all new chemicals now, whatever the intended use, but even now it's sometimes the case that something that appeared a few years ago to be safe did have longer-term consequences that nobody thought of looking for."

A new review of the research has found BPA, a chemical used in food and beverage packages to protect food from contamination and extend shelf life, to be "a reproductive toxicant" that can affect both men and women. 

This is of particular concern given that, in a recent study, 80 per cent of the women tested positive for BPA in urine. 

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