Although most of Swan’s analysis focuses on Western countries, she found similar trends in South America, Asia, and Africa.
Swan offers a sense of relief in her recap, providing practical advice on steps individuals can take to protect their health. She goes beyond lifestyle recommendations, describing a much more difficult task: purging harmful chemicals from our homes by reading the ingredients on bathroom and kitchen cleaners. Choose personal care products that are phthalate-free and paraben-free. Deodorant and scented products. Do not microwave food in plastic, making sure to filter potable water and discard plastic food storage containers and non-stick cookware. The suggestions continue.
Swan misses an opportunity to pay more attention to real-life stories. When she mentions individuals, their reproductive issues are often described without the story or context that reinforces a narrative. There are times when a memorable personal story could have replaced a fairly detailed anatomical and chemical description. There are passages that suffer from what Swan herself calls “stat overload” or dozens of foreign sounding chemical names.
Overall, his conclusion is well supported: the need for regulation, especially US federal policies that require companies to prove the safety of chemicals before using them for commercial purposes. Europeans are in favor of this precautionary principle and are currently in the process of removing or banning the most dangerous chemicals. Swan points out how this contrasts with America’s “innocent until proven guilty” approach, which then requires taxpayer-funded government studies to investigate the health effects.
“Count Down” is an important book for anyone concerned with the environment, pollution, reproductive success, or declining human health. Along with the ubiquitous chemical names, it is written in a relaxed and approachable style and will be of practical relevance to couples and young adults considering starting a family.
Fertility is already a problem for some who have children later in life, when the effects of these chemicals can be more pronounced. Swan offers somewhat stimulating recommendations for women who choose to delay pregnancy: Freeze your eggs in their twenties as an insurance policy. For men, an early survey of sperm count can reveal tendencies of infertility when they are easier to correct. More broadly, this book provides a wake-up call that increases understanding of fertility, its challenges, and the recognition that both partners play a role.
But ultimately, his conclusion is a plea for swift national and global actions that ban the use of these chemicals and mitigate the effects of those impacting health and even life around the world. Swan makes it clear that the future of many species, including our own, depends on it.