A new study of 218 Chinese men found that even low levels of the controversial plastics chemical bisphenol A (BPA) can lower sperm quality and count.
For the study, which was published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, researchers noted the participants’ sperm quality and urine BPA levels over five years. When compared to participants without detectable levels of the chemical, men with BPA in their urine were three times more likely to have low quality sperm.
“This adds additional human evidence that BPA is bad,” said [the study's first author] De-Kun Li…. “The general public should probably try to avoid exposure to BPA as much as they can.” [Washington Post]
That’s a tough order, because BPA is all over the place. It’s found in everything from sports equipment to medical devices to the plastic lining in canned foods.
Li’s previous studies have shown sexual effects of high levels of BPA, including inducing impotence in male factory workers exposed to it. Those studies were done with men exposed to about 50 times as much BPA as the average U.S. man, so the results might not apply to your average Joe.
A chemical commonly found in plastics that has recently fallen under intense scrutiny by public health officials has now been linked to impotence. During a five year study, scientists followed 634 male Chinese factory workers who were exposed to high levels of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) on the job and compared their sexual health with that of similar Chinese factory workers not exposed to BPA. The men handling BPA were four times as likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction and seven times as likely to have difficulty with ejaculation [Washington Post]. The study (PDF), published in the journal Human Reproduction, marks the first time sexual dysfunction has been linked to BPA exposure.
To be fair, the workers were exposed to BPA levels that are 50 times greater than the average U.S. man faces, so scientists can’t say how smaller amounts of the chemical will affect sexual health. However, the chemical resembles the hormone estrogen and that’s fueled worries that even very small amounts of BPA can cause harm [NPR News]. The feds are determined to get to the bottom of the issue and have pledged $30 million to researchers over the next two years in an effort to finally settle the question of whether BPA is safe.