—Getting the dirt on infertility’s biggest environmental risk factors.
1. PFOS and PFOA
According to a recent study published in the Oxford Journal, infertility in women is increased with higher levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoate (PFOA). The levels of these chemicals in human blood were measured, and in the end, significant trends linking the two were discovered.
We become exposed to these chemicals in many ways. PFOA can be found in chemicals used to treat paper and packaging, surface protectants on upholstery, carpeting, and other textiles, and other surfactants.
We become exposed to PFOS when we come in contact with electronics, leathers, upholstery and other textiles, plastic, and some construction materials, which affect female fertility.
The same chemical that can cause endocrine problems in babies—Bisphenol-A or BPA—is also implicated in reproductive problems for women. BPA is being phased out of baby bottles to protect our children, but it has yet to be phased out of products that cause infertility in women.
These include polycarbonate water bottles, tin cans used to store food, and is also present in medical equipment and consumer electronics.
Women aren’t the only ones affected by environmental toxins. Men also suffer from lower fertility rates because of pollutants in the environment. Take, for instance, the exposure of men to the pesticide chlordane.
A study done by the School of Public Health, University of Illinois, found that 75% of all US homes have this chemical in the air, with at least 5% with levels that are unsafe. This chemical lowers sperm counts and causes damage to the sperm-producing part of the testicles (seminiferous tubules).
4. Computer Monitors
Another study has shown that of the 1,500 pregnant women polled, those who sat in front of a computer monitor for more than 20 hours every week were twice as likely to have a miscarriage as those who didn’t.
(photo by: mcgraths)
It is likely chemicals in the electronics become airborne that pose the problem, causing either infertility in women or spontaneous early miscarriage.
Toluene is another chemical of concern. Used in all sorts of consumer products, such as glues, polystyrene, paint, varnishes, plastics, inks, metal degreasers, and coatings, toluene can increase the risk of infertility in men.
Other hydrocarbons included in this group are benzene, ethylbenzene, xylene, and aromatic solvents.
And don’t forget the detergents you use in your life. Many of the cleaning products in the average home contain a chemical called alkylphenols, a surfactant that reduces the surface tension in liquids to make it easier for the detergents to clean.
They can also be found in paints and even contraceptives [birth control]. As an endocrine disruptor, this chemical acts like a shot of estrogen, which can disrupt embryonic development and a woman’s reproductive system, leading to infertility in women. It may also wreak havoc with male reproductive systems.
Phthalates are another class of chemical being implicated in a woman’s inability to get pregnant. Research has shown that exposure to high levels of these chemicals can cause undescended testicles as well as hypospadias.
They also reduce the levels of sex hormones that reduce the effectiveness of the sex organs. Phthalates are found in plastic products, vinyl shower curtains, air fresheners and fragrances, cleaning products, nail polish, and much more, causing infertility in women.
Finally, there’s the problem of testicular dysgenesis. This syndrome causes low sperm count, incorrect placement of urethal openings, and incorrect development in the testis. Although there are multiple causes for this syndrome, one environmental risk factor is exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).
This group of chemicals are used as flame retardants and have been linked to many human health problems. You can find PBDEs in things like upholstery and the mattress you sleep on.