Environmental Factors

  • Claudio TelökenEmail author
  • Samuel Juncal
  • Túlio M. Graziottin


Approximately 50% of the human infertility issues involve male factors. A number of different components may result in reduction of sperm count or motility and affect sperm morphology. The etiology of male infertility is difficult to understand, due to its etiological heterogeneity, complexity, and incomplete knowledge of the underlying causes. In addition, World Health Organization (WHO) recently suggested changes in semen analysis lower limit parameters. In this way, it is not easy, based on the sperm count, to compare male infertility of earlier with the current ones. Most likely, some subfertile and/or infertile individuals under these new numbers would not be screened as such 5 years ago. Moreover, conventional reference values for seminal parameters have little diagnostic value because of their marked biological individuality variations, although seminal parameters may be useful for assessing differences in an individual’s serial results, in particular of progressive motility, morphology, and vitality. Not long, we have seen significant refinement regarding male full evaluation combined with new sophisticated diagnostic techniques. Even then, most of the infertile men are described as idiopathic. Therefore, reproductive toxicity has been a topic of increasing interest and concern, as human exposure to a considerable number of potential toxicants is unavoidable due to contamination of air, water, ground, food, beverages, and household. Several lifestyle-related factors such as obesity, smoking, sedentary exposure to traffic exhaust fumes, dioxins, combustion products, cell phone electromagnetic radiations, chronic noise stress, anabolic steroids, illicit drugs, heat, notebooks use, dietary habits, oxidative stress, etc., appear to exhibit some involvement in human reproduction. Apart from this, public concern about adverse effects of environmental chemicals, pesticides, food additives, and persistent pollutants on spermatogenesis in adult men is sometimes not supported by the available data for humans. About 80,000 new chemical compounds have been introduced to human civilization in the last 100 years, and only 145 have been rigorously assessed for their reproductive health effects. The main scope of this chapter is to review some of the most frequent environmental or occupational pollutants in sex hormone levels, birth rates, and human reproduction in view of the fact that male infertility may be a surrogate marker of serious additional underlying medical problems.


Environmental factors in male infertility Chromium Lead Mercury Dioxins Ethylene oxide Bisphenol Tobacco Polychlorinated biphenyls 


  1. 1.
    World Health Organization, Department of Reproductive Health and Research. WHO laboratory manual for the examination and processing of human semen. 5th ed. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2010. p. 1–271. ISBN 978 92 4 154778 9 (NLM classification: QY 190).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Lampiao F. Variation of semen parameters in healthy medical students due to exam stress. Malawi Med J. 2009;21(4):166–7.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Castilla JA, Álvarez C, Aguilar J, et al. Influence of analytical and biological variation on the clinical interpretationol seminal parameters. Hum Reprod. 2006;21(4):847–51.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Oshio S, Ashizawa Y, Yotsukura M, et al. Individual variation in semen parameters of healthy young volunteers. Arch Androl. 2004;50:417–25.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Public Health Statement about Methoxychlor. Agency for toxic substances and disease registry (ATSDR). 2002. Accessed 22 Aug 2010.
  6. 6.
    Agarwal A, Desai NR, Ruffoli N, et al. Lifestyle and testicular dysfunction: a brief update. Biomed Pharmacother. 2008;62:550–3.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ausmees K, Zarkovski M, Timberg G, et al. Associations between semen quality, body mass index and metabolic syndrome parameters in young male. Eur Urol Suppl. 2010;9:I–XX.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Phillips KP, Tanphaichitr N. Mechanisms of obesity-induced male infertility. Expert Rev Endocrinol Metabol. 2010;5(2):229–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Sharpe RM. Environmental/lifestyle effects on spermatogenesis. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2010;365(1546):1697–712.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Sheynkin Y, Jung M, Yoo P, et al. Increase in scrotal temperature in laptop computer users. Hum Reprod. 2004. Accessed 1 June 2011.
  11. 11.
    Turek PJ. Does the male infertility clinical evaluation adequately assess toxicologic exposures? Fertil Steril. 2008;89:69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Velde E, Burdorf A, Nieschlag E, et al. Is human fecundity declining in Western countries? Hum Reprod. 2010;25(6):1348–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Sinclair S. Male infertility nutritional and environmental considerations. Altern Med Rev. 2000;5(1):28–38.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Rhind SM, Evans NP, Bellingham M. Effects of environmental pollutants on the reproduction and welfare of ruminants. Animal. 2010;4(7):1227–39.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Toppari J, Larsen JC, Christiansen P, et al. Male reproductive health and environmental xenoestrogens. Environ Health Perspect. 1996;104(4):741–803.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Carlsen E, Giwercman A, Keiding N, et al. Evidence for decreasing quality of semen during past 50 years. BMJ. 1992;305:609–13.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Hauser R, Sokol R. Science linking environmental contaminant exposures with fertility and reproductive health impacts in the adult male. Fertil Steril. 2008;89:59–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Saradha B, Mathur PP. Effect of environmental contaminants on male reproduction. Environ Toxicol Pharmacol. 2006;21:34–41.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Perry MJ. Effects of environmental and occupational pesticide exposure on human sperm: a systematic review. Hum Reprod Update. 2008;14(3):233–42.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Jobling S, Burn RW, Thorpe R, et al. Statistical modelling suggests that anti-androgens in wastewater treatment works effluents are contributing causes of widespread sexual disruption in fish living in English rivers. Environ Health Perspect. 2009. doi:  10.1289/ehp.0800197. Accessed 7 Jan 2009.
  21. 21.
    Sharpe RM, Skakkebaek NE. Are oestrogens involved in falling sperm counts and disorders of the male reproductive tract? Lancet. 1993;341:1392–5.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Aitken RJ, Baker MA. Reactive oxygen species generation by human spermatozoa: a continuing. Int J Androl. 2002;25(4):191–4.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Agarwal A, Said TM. Role of sperm chromatin abnormalities and DNA damage in male infertility. Hum Reprod Update. 2003;9:331–45.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Rao AVSK, Shaha C. Role of glutathione S-transferases in oxidative stress–induced male germ cell apoptosis. Free Radic Biol Med. 2000;29(10):1015–27.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Iwasaki A, Gagnon C. Formation of reactive oxygen species in spermatozoa of infertile patients. Fertil Steril. 1992;57(2):409–16.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Chen SS, Chang LS, Wei YH. Oxidative damage to proteins and decrease of antioxidant capacity in patients with varicocele. Free Radic Biol Med. 2001;30:1328–34.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Agarwal A, Saleh RA, Bedaiwy MA. Role of recreative oxygen species in the pathophysiology of human reproduction. Fertil Steril. 2003;79:829–43.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Mendiola J, Torres-Cantero AM, Moreno-Grau JM, et al. Food intake and its relationship with semen quality: a case-control study. Fertil Steril. 2009;91:812–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Agarwal A. New insights in molecular mechanisms of male infertility. Urology News. 2003;22(8):22.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Akingbemi BT, Ge RS, Klinefelter GR, et al. A metabolite of methoxychlor, 2,2-bis(p-hydroxyphenyl)-1,1,1-trichloroethane, reduces testosterone biosynthesis in rat Leydig cells through suppression of steady-state messenger ribonucleic acid levels of the cholesterol side-chain cleavage enzyme. Biol Reprod. 2000;62:571–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Cummings AW. Methoxychlor as a model for environmental estrogens. Crit Rev Toxicol. 1997;27:367–79.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Castellini C, Mourvakia E, Sartini B, et al. In vitro toxic effects of metal compounds on kinetic traits and ultrastructure of rabbit spermatozoa. Reprod Toxicol. 2009;27:46–54.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Altamirano-Lozano M, Alvarez-Barrera L, Basurto-Alcántara F, et al. Reprotoxic and genotoxic studies of vanadium pentoxide in male mice. Teratog Carcinog Mutagen. 1996;16:7–17.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Cooper RG. Vanadium pentoxide inhalation. Indian J Occup Environ Med. 2007;11:97–102.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Lauwerys R, Roels H, Genet P, et al. Fertility of male workers exposed to mercury vapor or to manganese dust: a questionnaire study. Am J Ind Med. 1985;7(2):171–6.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Wirth JJ, Rossano MG, Daly DC, et al. Ambient manganese exposure is negatively associated with human sperm motility and concentration. Epidemiology. 2007;18:270–3.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Şayli BS. Assessment of fertility and infertility in boron-exposed turkish subpopulations. Evaluation of fertility among sibs and in “borate families”. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2001;81(3):255–67.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Şayli BS. Low frequency of infertility among workers in a borate processing facility. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2003;93:19–29.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Tüccar EAH, Yavuz Y, et al. Comparison of infertility rates in communities from boron-rich and boron-poor territories. Biol Trace Elem Res. 1998;66:401–7.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Scialli AR, Bondeb JP, Bruske-Hohlfeldc I, et al. An overview of male reproductive studies of boron with an emphasis on studies of highly exposed Chinese workers. Reprod Toxicol. 2010;29:10–24.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Jarup L. Health effects of cadmium exposure—a review of the ­literature and a risk estimate. Scand J Work Environ Health. 1998;24:11–51.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Aruldhas MM, Subramanian S, Sekar P, et al. Chronic chromium exposure-induced changes in testicular histoarchitecture are associated with oxidative stress: study in a non-human primate (Macaca radiata Geoffroy). Hum Reprod. 2005;20(10):2801–13.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Danadevi K, Roya R, Reddy PP, et al. Semen quality of Indian welders occupationally exposed to nickel and chromium. Reprod Toxicol. 2003;17(4):451–6.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. 44.
    Li H, Chen Q, Li S, et al. Effect of Cr(VI) exposure on sperm quality: human and animal studies. Ann Occup Hyg. 2001;45:505–11.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Duffus JH. Effect of Cr(VI) exposure on sperm quality. Ann Occup Hyg. 2002;46(2):269–70.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 46.
    Aruldhas MM, Subramanian S, Sekar P, et al. Microcanalization in the epididymis to overcome ductal obstruction caused by chronic exposure to chromium—a study in the mature bonnet monkey (Macaca radiata Geoffroy). Reproduction. 2004;128:127–37.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. 47.
    Bataineh H, Al-Hamood MH, Elbetieha A. Effect of long-term ingestion of chromium compounds on aggression, sex behavior and fertility in adult male rat. Drug Chem Toxicol. 1997;20(3):133–49.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. 48.
    Sheiner EK, Sheiner E, Hammel RD, et al. Effect of occupational exposures on male fertility. Ind Health. 2003;41:55–62.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. 49.
    Shiau CY, Wang JD, Chen PC. Decreased fecundity among male lead workers. Occup Environ Med. 2004;61:915–23.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    Benoff S, Centola GM, Millan C, et al. Increased seminal plasma lead levels adversely affect the fertility potential of sperm in IVF. Hum Reprod. 2003;18(2):374–83.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. 51.
    Bonde JP, Apostoli P. Any need to revisit the male reproductive toxicity of lead? Occup Environ Med. 2005;62:2–3.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. 52.
    Podzimek S, Prochazkova J, Bultasova L, et al. Sensitization to inorganic mercury could be a risk factor for infertility. Neuroendocrinology. 2005;4(26):277–82.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Hendry WF, A’Hern RP, Cole PJ. Was Young’s syndrome caused by exposure to mercury in childhood? BMJ. 1993;307(6919):1579–82.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. 54.
    Mutter J, Naumann J, Sadaghiani C, et al. Amalgam studies: disregarding basic principles of mercury toxicity. Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2004;207(4):391–7.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. 55.
    Choy CM, Lam CW, Cheung LT, et al. Infertility, blood mercury concentrations and dietary seafood consumption. BJOG. 2002;109(10):1121–5.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. 56.
    Aydemir B, Kiziler AR, Onaran I, et al. Impact of Cu and Fe concentrations on oxidative damage in male infertility. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2006;112(3):193–203.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. 57.
    Jockenhövel F, Bals-Pratsch M, Bertram HP, et al. Seminal lead and copper in fertile and infertile men. Andrologia. 1990;22(6):503–11.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. 58.
    Water treatment solutions—Lenntech. Accessed 22 Aug 2010.
  59. 59.
    Public Health Statement about Methoxychlor. Atlanta, GA: ATSDR. Accessed 1 June 2011.
  60. 60.
    EU Pesticides Database. European Union—DG SANCO. Accessed 2 Oct 2009.
  61. 61.
    Consumer Factsheet on: METHOXYCHLOR. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed 26 Nov 2006.
  62. 62.
    Hazard Evaluation System and Information Service. Accessed 5 Jun 2008.
  63. 63.
    Cherry N, Moore H, McNamee R, et al. Occupation and male infertility: glycol ethers and other exposures. Occup Environ Med. 2008;65:708–14.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. 64.
    Multigner L, Brik EB, Arnaud I, et al. Glycol ethers and semen quality: a cross-sectional study among male workers in the Paris municipality. Occup Environ Med. 2007;64:467–73.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. 65.
    Hauser R. The environment and male fertility: recent research on emerging chemicals and semen quality. Semin Reprod Med. 2006;24(3):156–67.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. 66.
    Update on bisphenol A for use in food contact applications. U.S. Food and Drug Administration—FDA. 2010. Accessed 1 June 2011.
  67. 67.
    European Food Safety Authority. Toxicokinetics of bisphenol A, scientific opinion of the panel on food additives, flavourings, processing aids and materials in contact with food. EFSA J. 2008. Accessed 9 Jul 2008.
  68. 68.
    Vom Saal VS, Akingbemi BT, Belcher SM, et al. Bisphenol A expert panel consensus statement: integration of mechanisms, effects in animals and potential to impact human health at current levels of exposure. Reprod Toxicol. 2007;24:131–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. 69.
    Sigman M, Jarow JP. Male infertility. In: Wein AJ, Kavoussi LR, Novick AC, Partin AW, Peters CA, editors. Campbell-Walsh urology, vol. 9. Philadelphia: Elsevier Inc; 2007. p. 609–50.Google Scholar
  70. 70.
    Sepaniak S, Forges T, Gerard H, et al. The influence of cigarette smoking on human sperm quality and DNA fragmentation. Toxicology. 2006;223:54–60.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. 71.
    Zenzes MT. Smoking and reproduction: gene damage to human gametes and embryos. Hum Reprod Update. 2000;6:122–31.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. 72.
    Zenzes MT, Bielecki R, Reed TE. Detection of benzo(a)pyrene diol epoxide-DNA adducts in sperm of men exposed to cigarette smoke. Fertil Steril. 1999;72:330–5.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. 73.
    Vine MF, Tse CK, Hu P, et al. Cigarette smoking and semen quality. Fertil Steril. 1996;65:835–42.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  74. 74.
    Goverde HJM, Dekker HS, Janssen HJ, et al. Semen quality and frequency of smoking and alcohol consumption—an explorative study. Int J Fertil. 1995;40(3):135–8.Google Scholar
  75. 75.
    Bolumar F, Olsen J, Boldsen J. Smoking reduces fecundity: a European multicenter study on infertility and subfecundity. The European Study Group on Infertility and Subfecundity. Am J Epidemiol. 1996;143:578–87.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. 76.
    Zitzmann M, Rolf C, Nordhoff V, et al. Male smokers have a decreased success rate for in vitro fertilization and intracytoplasmic sperm injection. Fertil Steril. 2003;79(3):1550–4.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. 77.
    Bonde JP, Kold JT, Brixen LS, et al. Year of birth and sperm count in 10 Danish occupational studies. Scand J Work Environ Health. 1998;24:407–13.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. 78.
    Turek PJ. Evaluation and treatment of male factor infertility. In: Shoskes DA, Morey AF, editors. The American Urological Association Educational review manual in urology. 2nd ed. New York: Castle Connolly Graduate Medical Publishing; 2009. p. 825–52.Google Scholar
  79. 79.
    Costabile RA. The effects of cancer and cancer therapy on male reproductive function. J Urol. 1993;149:1327–30.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  80. 80.
    Hauser R, Meeker JD, Duty S, et al. Altered semen quality in relation to urinary concentrations of phthalate monoester and oxidative metabolites. Epidemiology. 2006;17:682–91.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. 81.
    Queiroz EKR, Waissmann W. Occupational exposure and effects on the male reproductive system. Cad Saúde Pública. 2006;22(3):485–93.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. 82.
    Murature DA, Tang SY, Steinhardt G, Dougherty RC. Phthalate esters and semen quality parameters. Biomed Environ Mass Spectrom. 1987;14:473–7.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. 83.
    Singleton DW, Sohaib AK. Xenosestrogen exposure and mechanisms of endocrine disruption. Front Biosci. 2003;8:110–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. 84.
    Skakkebæk NE, Rajpert-De Meyts E, Main KM. Testicular dysgenesis syndrome: an increasingly common developmental disorder with environmental aspects. Hum Reprod. 2001;16:972–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. 85.
    Aksglaede L, Juul A, Leffers H, et al. The sensitivity of the child to sex steroids: possible impact of exogenous estrogens. Hum Reprod. 2006;12:341–9.Google Scholar
  86. 86.
    Andersson AM, Skakkebæk NE. Exposure to exogenous estrogens in food: possible impact on human development and health. Eur J Endocrinol. 1999;140:477–85.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. 87.
    Swan SH, Liu F, Overstreet JW, et al. Semen quality of fertile US males in relation to their mothers beef consumption during pregnancy. Hum Reprod. 2007;22:1497–502.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. 88.
    Toppari J, Skakkebæk NE. Sexual differentiation and environmental endocrine disrupters. Baillieres Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1998;12:143–56.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. 89.
    Damgaard IN, Skakkebæk NE, Toppari J, et al. Persistent pesticides in human breast milk and cryptorchidism. Environ Health Perspect. 2006;114:1133–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. 90.
    Kelce WR, Monosson E, Gamcsik MP, Laws SC, et al. Environmental hormone disruptors: evidence that vinclozolin developmental toxicity is mediated by antiandrogenic metabolites. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 1994;126:276–85.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. 91.
    Bayley M, Junge M, Baatrup E. Exposure of juvenile guppies to three antiandrogens causes demasculinization and a reduced sperm count in adult males. Aquat Toxicol. 2002;56(4):227–39.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. 92.
    Blake LS, et al. Reproductive toxicity of vinclozolin in the fathead minnow: confirming an anti-androgenic mode of action. Environ Toxicol Chem. 2008;27(2):478–88.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. 93.
    Anway MD, Cupp AS, Uzumcu M, et al. Epigenetic transgenerational actions of endocrine disruptors and male fertility. Science. 2005;308:1466–9.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. 94.
    Uzumcu M, Suzuki H, Skinner MK. Effect of the anti-androgenic endocrine disruptor vinclozolin on embryonic testis cord formation and postnatal testis development and function. Reprod Toxicol. 2004;18(6):765–74.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. 95.
    Anway MD, Memon AM, Uzumcu M, et al. Transgenerational effect of the endocrine disruptor vinclozolin on male spermatogenesis. J Androl. 2006;27(6):868–79.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. 96.
    MacLeod J, Hotchkiss RS. The effect of hyperpyrexia upon spermatozoa counts in men. Endocrinology. 1941;28:780–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. 97.
    Thonneau P, Bujan L, Multigner L, et al. Occupational heat ­exposure and male fertility: a review. Hum Reprod. 1998;13(8):2122–5.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. 98.
    de la Calle JF Velez, Rachou E, le Martelot MT, et al. Male infertility risk factors in a French military population. Hum Reprod. 2001;16(3):481–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. 99.
    Brindley GS. Deep scrotal temperature and the effect on it of clothing, air temperature, activity, posture and paraplegia. Br J Urol. 1982;54(1):49–55.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Claudio Telöken
    • 1
    Email author
  • Samuel Juncal
    • 2
  • Túlio M. Graziottin
    • 1
  1. 1.Andrology Section of Fertilitat – Human Reproduction Center, Department of UrologySanta Casa Hospital and Federal University of Health SciencesPorto AlegreBrazil
  2. 2.Andrology Section of Fertilitat – Human Reproduction CenterFederal University of Health SciencesPorto AlegreBrazil

Personalised recommendations