Quit Bugging Me

July 25, 2010

This just in: men with high urine levels of any one of three pesticides in common use have ten times the risk for sperm abnormalities. So says Shanna Swan of the University of Missouri at Columbia who performed a small study on the subject.

Compelling Results

Since the study includes only 86 men, all residents of Missouri and Minnesota, the results cannot be considered conclusive. However, scientists thought the results compelling enough to give credence to Swan's recommendations. Swan believes that the common weed-killers alachlor and atrazine as well as an insecticide called diazinon are responsible for observed fertility issues in men who live in areas where drinking water is contaminated with these toxic chemicals.

Harvard School of Public Health's Dr. Russ Hauser comments that it is unusual to such a wide-scale effect when researching in the field of environmental epidemiology. For this reason, experts in this field are quite intrigued by the results of Swan's study. It's important to note that this new study has heated up a decade's long debate. The debate centers on whether exposure to chemicals may be behind the ever-increasing rates of male infertility in various geographic locations such as in parts of Northern Europe; where scientists are working hard to glean new information on the topic.

However, Swan's study results have been issued just as atrazine is undergoing close scrutiny by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Atrazine is the most common pesticide in use in the U.S. The pesticide begged for a closer look by the EPA when a study found that male frogs in the Midwest were sprouting female gonads. Atrazine is still under investigation by the EPA.

Farm Belt

Though atrazine, alachlor, and diazinon have all been found in supplies across the U.S., the highest levels of these pesticides are found in the drinking water of farm belt states, for instance in Minnesota. Swan's study is the very first to test the effects of these pesticides on the quality and quantity of the sperm of those men who drink water that has been contaminated with the three compounds. This study was published in the online version of Environmental Health Perspectives.

The study found that water containing alachlor, used to eradicate weeds in soybean and corn fields, had the most significant impact on sperm. Men with the highest levels of this compound in their urine showed 30 times the risk for low sperm counts and motility when compared to men who had less exposure to this particular chemical.

The risks for poor quality sperm were reduced though still very significant among men with high levels of exposure to diazinon and atrazine. Until the EPA took diazinon off the market in 1990, this chemical was the top lawn and garden insecticide within the U.S.  Malathion and DEET have also been seen to cause sperm issues and abnormalities.

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