Study: Glycol ether solvent damages sperm Friday,
23 May 2008 Manchester
Glycol ethers, which are increasingly used in paints as solvents … can damage sperm motility, according to a case-control study in Occupational and Environment Medicine (2008; doi: 10.1136/oem.2007.035824). The study was conducted at 14 UK fertility clinics. Participants were 2,128 men who had consulted the centres for fertility problems (impaired ability to conceive).
Patients with a low number of motile sperm in the ejaculate and those with other reasons for infertility were compared. The group led by andrologist Andy Povey from the University of Manchester then conducted extensive surveys on exposure to various chemicals.
Only glycol ethers were found to be related. Men who were heavily exposed, for example as painters or decorators, had an increased risk of a spermiogram disorder by a factor of 2.5. For men with occasional exposure, the risk was increased by about 70 percent. Since over 40 percent of men with fertility problems were exposed to the solvents, it could be a significant cause of infertility.
No increased risk was found for other chemicals. However, previous surgery on the testicles and manual activity in general were associated with sperm motility disorders, as was wearing tight pants. Boxer shorts, but also moderate alcohol consumption, on the other hand, could increase the quality of the male sperm.
Glycol ethers are used as brake fluid, softeners and solvents. In paints and varnishes they are contained as methyl, ethyl or methyl diglycol. They are colourless liquids with a pleasant odour. They are easily miscible with most solvents, partly also with water.