Men’s Reproductive Health in the Workplace | NIOSH

Though there is no complete list of reproductive hazards in the workplace, a number of workplace substances have been identified as reproductive hazards for men. Reproductive hazards are substances that affect the ability to have healthy children. Learn more about specific exposures found to have reproductive effects in men and how you can lower your exposures.

Some examples of reproductive hazards include:

  • Radiation
  • Pesticides
  • Various chemicals and solvents
  • Legal and illegal drugs
  • Cigarettes
  • Heat

Scientists are just beginning to understand how reproductive hazards affect the male reproductive system. Although more than 1,000 workplace chemicals have been shown to have reproductive effects on animals, most have not been studied in humans. There are over 72 million unique chemicals registered by the American Chemical Society, with about 15,000 new substances added every day, most of which are not tested for reproductive health effects.

Reproductive Health Problems Potentially Associated with Workplace Exposures

The Table below shows examples of reproductive hazards for men in the workplace. Although studies have found that workplace exposures may affect the reproductive system in some men, these effects do not necessarily occur in every worker. Some of the agents listed in the Table are well-known reproductive hazards (such as lead), while the scientific evidence for the others may not be as definitive.

Whether or not an exposure will cause a reproductive problem depends on:

  • The amount of time you’re exposed
  • The amount of the hazard you’re exposed to
  • How you were exposed. Learn more about how exposure occurs.
  • How your body reacts to the hazard

These are only examples of hazards. Do not assume that a substance is safe if it is missing from the table.

Table – Examples of Potential Reproductive Hazards1

Examples of Potential Reproductive Hazards
Reproductive problem: Examples
Low Hormone Levels
Some reproductive hazards can change the level of hormones in a man’s body. This could affect how sperm are made or the man’s sexual performance.
insecticides, lead, organophosphate, DDE, manganese, phthalates
Low Number of Sperm
Some reproductive hazards can stop or slow the actual production of sperm. This means that there will be fewer sperm present to fertilize an egg; if no sperm are produced, the man is sterile.
lead, diesel exhaust, pesticide, bisphenol A, organophosphate, chromium, paraquat/malathion
Irregular Sperm Shape
Reproductive hazards may cause the shape of sperm cells to be different. These sperm often have trouble swimming or are unable to fertilize the egg.
insecticides, lead, carbon disulfide, pesticides, bisphenol A, petrochemical, carbofuran, nickel
Irregular Sperm Genetics
Some reproductive hazards can affect the genetics (DNA) found in sperm. The sperm and egg each contribute 23 chromosomes at fertilization. The genetic information, or DNA, stored in these chromosomes determines what we will look like and how our bodies will function. Radiation or chemicals may cause changes or breaks in the DNA. If a sperm’s DNA is damaged, it may not be able to fertilize an egg; or if it does fertilize an egg, it may affect the development of the unborn baby.
phthalates, styrene, organophosphate, carbaryl, fenvalerate, lead, benzene
Chemicals in Semen
Hazardous chemicals may collect in the epididymis, seminal vesicles, or prostate. These chemicals may kill the sperm, change the way in which they swim, or attach to the sperm and be carried to the egg.
lead, trichloroethylene, boron, cadmium
Low Amount of Semen
On average a man ejaculates about 3/4 of a teaspoon of semen. Some exposures may reduce this to less than 1/2 teaspoon. This may result in the fluid not transporting the sperm to the cervix (opening to the womb)
lead, organophosphate, paraquat/malathion
Low Number of Swimming Sperm
Sperm have to swim through much of the woman’s reproductive tract. Slow or not swimming sperm reduces the number of sperm available for fertilization.
insecticides, diesel exhaust, lead, carbon disulfide, phthalates, pesticides, bisphenol A, fenvalerate, petrochemical, welding, N, N-dimethylformamide, abamectin, paraquat/malathion
Lower Sex Drive
Some exposures may reduce the man’s sex drive or libido. This could result in not having intercourse during the women’s fertile time.
carbon disulfide, bisphenol A
Erectile Dysfunction (ED)
Some exposures affect the ability for a man’s penis to be hard enough for sex.
bisphenol A, bicycle saddles
Lower Penis Sensitivity
If an exposure reduces the feeling in the penis the man may not be stimulated enough to ejaculate
bicycle saddles
Lower Ejaculation Quality
If an exposure limits the ejaculation process sperm cannot reach the cervix (womb opening) and cannot get to the egg.
bisphenol A

Can You Expose Your Family to Workplace Hazards?

Your family may never come to your workplace but could be exposed to hazards in your workplace that you may accidentally bring home. This could affect your partner’s health, the health of a pregnancy or your children. Many chemicals can be carried to your car or to your home on your skin, hair, clothes, shoes or tool box and expose others in the family. Some infections, including Zika virus, can be passed to sexual partners.

Learn more about how your job can affect pregnancy, breastfeeding and your family’s health.

If you’d like to learn how the workplace can affect women’s fertility and ability to have healthy children, learn more on our women’s reproductive health in the workplace page.

Learn more about how you can lower job exposure.

Related Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Public Health Action Plan for the Detection, Prevention and Management of Infertility

1 Assessing the Reproductive Health of Men with Occupational Exposures. Schrader S, Marlow K. Asian Journal of Andrology 2014; 16:23-30.

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