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Occupational hazards that can affect fertility OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDS THAT CAN AFFECT FERTILITY
Certain kinds of work may be linked with reduced fertility for both partners. This is backed up by substantial research.
For example, professional drivers spend long hours sitting which can result in a lower sperm count and higher numbers of abnormal sperm.
Likewise, welders exposed to intense heat may have reduced quantity and quality of sperm. In the same way, firefighters face intense heat, and they are also exposed to a large variety of chemicals which affect their fertility. Indeed, any man who works in a hot environment (such as a foundry or bakery) could find that his sperm production decreases.
Agricultural workers exposed to pesticides and other chemicals have low sperm counts. Research also shows that their partners have a high rate of miscarriages. In 1991, 1,500 men in Costa Rica became sterile after being exposed to a pesticide used to treat bananas. Other pesticides, such as DBCP (dibromochloropropane), have caused changes in sperm counts, of which were reversible after exposure had stopped. Women exposed to pesticides can have problems conceiving and an increase in miscarriages.
Healthcare workers can be exposed to waste anaesthetic gases, ethylene oxide, cytostatic drugs, mercury and X-rays. And, as we have already seen, s and their assistants experience fertility problems due to the mercury in amalgam fillings.
Painters and printers are exposed to solvents and pigments which can affect male fertility.
Women who are exposed to chemicals and heavy metals often have problems with their menstrual cycle, experiencing hormone imbalances and miscarriages, while taking longer to get pregnant.
Problems with fertility can occur if you or your partner works with lead (used to make storage batteries), radiation, pesticides and/or solvents. For example, workers in drycleaners and hairdressers come into contact with a wide range of chemicals.
In 1997 the Lancet, the leading medical journal, published a whole range of occupations and their implications for fertility. Agents toxic to sperm included inorganic mercury, dibromochloropropane, ethylene dibromide, ethylene glycol ethers, chloropropene and carbon disulfide. Certain other occupational risks were found, including heat, strenuous work, ionising radiation, exposure to lead, antineoplastic agents, waste anaesthetic gases, ethylene oxide, methyl mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls and carbon monoxide.
Visual Display Units
Like televisions, VDUs produce a range of electromagnetic radiation frequencies, including ultraviolet, infrared, microwave, radio frequency and extra low frequency (ELF). Even though so many workers, male and female, now sit in front of a screen all day, surprisingly little is known about the impact of VDUs on health and fertility.
The Health and Safety Executive, the UK's main workers' watchdog, found no evidence of an increased miscarriage risk among VDU operatives in a 1992 survey. But other studies point to dangers.
The length of time spent at the computer may be the key. One study found that women who spent more than 20 hours a week in front of the screen had twice as many miscarriages as non-VDU workers. But under 20 hours there was no increased risk. Researchers have also found that not only are miscarriages correlated to the amount of time spent on a VDU but also the same for premature births and stillbirths. Out of those spending up to 6 hours a day at a computer 66 per cent had a problem relating to either a miscarriage, premature birth or stillbirth compared to only 25 per cent for those women spending one hour a day on a VDU.
A number of studies on women VDU workers have also considered stress as a contributing factor to fertility problems. Working at a screen means that women can be sitting in the same position for long hours, doing repetitive work, and often under time pressure.
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