DDT’s long shadow: Long-banned chemicals linked to abnormal sperm

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The full article by Brian Bienkowski was originally written for Environmental Health News

Men exposed to certain banned but long-lived chemicals at high levels as teenagers are more likely to have defective sperm later in life, according a new study.

Researchers report today that organochlorine chemicals—specifically DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)—may affect how testicles mature and function. It is the first study to examine men’s exposure to the chemicals during the teenage years and abnormal sperm later in life, and suggests that the chemicals—banned in the United States but still lingering in soil, water and people—may contribute to male infertility.

“These chemicals continue to persist in our environment. Levels are going down over the past 30 years, but all of us still have levels in our bodies,” said lead author Melissa Perry, a professor and researcher at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.

Perry and colleagues examined sperm and blood samples from 90 men from the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic Ocean. They looked at organochlorine chemicals in their blood as adults, and checked their sperm for abnormal amounts of chromosomes. For 33 of the men, they also had blood samples at age 14.

Men with higher levels of DDE—a breakdown product of the pesticide DDT—and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which were used in transistors and electronics, at 14 years old had higher rates of abnormal sperm. The same link was found for levels of the chemicals in the men as adults, according to the study published today in Environmental Health Perspectives.

“It’s another one of those studies that helps us understand why male fertility is in decline in certain areas of the world,” said Thomas Zoeller, a professor and researcher at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst who was not involved in the study.

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DDT’s long shadow: Long-banned chemicals linked to abnormal sperm