Chemical exposure causes knock-on pregnancy effects

Workplace exposure to plasticisers and pesticides may lower fertility, according to a Dutch study published online in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The research has argued that workplace exposure to plasticisers and pesticides may lower a woman’s fertility and can increase her chances of having a lower birthweight baby.

The report was based on the survey of 6,000 women during various stages of pregnancy, with due dates between 2002 and 2006. The women were part of a long-term study tracking the health of their children from foetal development to young adulthood. Each woman was assessed, including a physical examination, questionnaires and interviews, during which they were asked how long it took them to conceive and what paid work they had done.

They were also asked about the types of jobs and activities they had performed and a job exposure “matrix” was used to assess their working conditions, including physical workload and exposure to chemicals during pregnancy.

Older age, lower educational attainment, ethnicity, smoking and drinking all affected time to conception and birthweight – but these were all known risk factors.

Conversely, physically demanding work did not affect fertility or birthweight. If anything, the study showed that regular handling of loads weighing 5kg or more were associated with improved fertility and heavier babies at birth.

But women exposed to phthalates – substances used to make plastics more flexible – and pesticides were more than twice as likely to take six months or longer to conceive and to have lower birthweight babies, although the overall numbers were small, the study concluded.

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