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Glycol Ethers Linked to Male Infertility

May 27, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Emerging research just this week indicates that men working as painters and decorators who are exposed to glycol ethers are more likely to have poor semen quality.  Scientists from the Universities of Sheffield and Manchester conducted the research.

Research findings, which have been published in the British medical journal Occupational Environmental Medicine, reveal that men who work with solvents such as glycol ether have a 2.5-fold increased risk of experiencing a low motile sperm count compared to men with low exposure.  Glycol ethers are widely used in many products including water-based paints, a product which is used by many painters and decorators.  Glycol ether is often used in dermatological products such as skin creams and is also used as a fixative for perfumes; an insect repellent; a topical antiseptic; a solvent for cellulose acetate, some dyes, inks, and resins; and in preservatives and pharmaceuticals.

Sperm motility is critical in the fertility of men; the concentration of motile sperm per ejaculate has shown to be linked with conception; however, sperm morphology—the size and shape of sperm—and sperm DNA quality are important factors that may be affected by chemical exposure.  The research findings are a result of a major collaborative United Kingdom study to determine the occupational risks of male infertility through chemical exposure in the workplace.  The study involved 14 fertility clinics in 11 cities across the UK and examined the working lives of 2,118 men.

Also, it has long been known that overexposure to glycol ethers can cause anemia—a shortage of red blood cells—intoxication similar to the effects of alcohol; and irritation of the eyes, nose, or skin.  In the laboratory, low-level exposure to certain glycol ethers can cause birth defects, as well as causing damage to a male's sperm and testicles.  Some evidence also links glycol ether workplace exposure to reduced human sperm counts.  Workers are warned, based on lab tests and worker studies of workers, that certain glycol ethers should be treated as reproductive health hazards.

Dr. Andy Povey, senior lecturer in Molecular Epidemiology at the University of Manchester, said:  "We know that certain glycol ethers can affect male fertility and the use of these has reduced over the past two decades; however, our results suggest that they are still a workplace hazard and that further work is needed to reduce such exposure."  Dr Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in Andrology at the University of Sheffield, added:  "Infertile men are often concerned about whether chemicals they are exposed to in the workplace are harming their fertility; therefore, it is reassuring to know that on the whole the risk seems to be quite low."

Meanwhile, this Friday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning to women—which is discussed in an article posted to today’s “Breaking News” section of the yourlawyer.com—to neither use nor purchase Mommy's Bliss Nipple Cream due to two potentially harmful ingredients contained in the cream that may cause respiratory distress, vomiting, and diarrhea in infants.  The potentially harmful ingredients in the cream are chlorphenesin and phenoxyethanol.  Phenoxyethanol is a glycol ether.


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