Chemicals in Paint May Cause Fertility Problems in Men

A British study suggests that men routinely exposed to chemicals found in paint may be more likely to experience fertility problems.

The research found that men, such as painters and decorators, who work with glycol solvents are two-and-a-half times more likely to produce lower levels of “normal” sperm.

The study, a joint research project between the Universities of Manchester and Sheffield, examined more than 2,000 men attending 14 fertility clinics. The research found identified a wide variety of other chemicals that did not impact fertility.

In the study, the scientists examined two groups of men attending fertility clinics –those with sperm motility problems, and those without them. There had been previous concerns that exposure to many workplace chemicals might affect a man’s fertility, of which sperm motility is a critical variable.

The men were surveyed about their lifestyles, occupations and potential exposure to chemicals. The researchers found a 250% increase in risk of sperm motility issues among the men exposed to glycol ethers, chemicals widely used as solvents in water-based paints. This risk existed even after considering other lifestyle factors, such as smoking, testicular surgery, wearing tight underpants and manual work.

“We know that certain glycol ethers can affect male fertility and the use of these has reduced over the past two decades,” Dr Andy Povey of University of Manchester told BBC News.

“However, our work suggests they are still a workplace hazard and further work is needed to reduce such exposure,” he said.

However, the study found that this was the only chemical linked to fertility problems in men, which should put men’s minds at ease, said Dr Allan Pacey, a Sheffield University fertility specialist.

“Infertile men are often concerned about whether chemicals they are exposed to in the workplace are harming their fertility,” he told BBC News.

“Therefore it is reassuring to know that on the whole, the risk seems to be quite low.”

On the Net:

Occupational and Environmental Medicine

Health and Safety Executive

British Fertility Society

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