Environmental Causes of Infertility

Information Compiled by
Wayne Sinclair, M.D.
Richard W. Pressinger, (M.Ed.)
Graduate Research Project USF, Tampa, Florida

Environmental causes of infertility and miscarriage have been summarized for you from major medical journals. The information clearly shows why infertility rates have increased dramatically since the 1950’s, and therefore, shows what you can do to greatly improve chances of conception without medical intervention.

Infertility Topics Include:






food additives

cosmetic chemicals

job occupations


pesticide use

vehicle exhaust

geographic locations

Avoiding these circumstances should significantly improve the likelihood of conception by decreasing attrition to the active genes controlling reproductive processes.
Evidence also included demonstrates the same chemicals responsible for infertility
and miscarriage are being identified as increasing the risk for having a child with
mental retardation, learning disabilities or behavior problems (such as A.D.D.).

Infertility & Miscarriage Research Summaries

(Information summarized from major medical journals and magazines)

Percentage of women with infertility differs with age.15-24 years old………. 4.1%25-34 years old………. 13.1%35-44 years old………. 21.4% National Center for Health StatisticsRedbook Magazine, August, 1993
The risk of miscarriage differs with age20-29 years old………. 10% risk of miscarriage45 or older …………… 50% risk of miscarriage  Chatelaine MagazineNovember 1993, pg. 26
Male infertility increases over past 40 years
One-half of 1% of men were functionally sterile in 1938. Today it has reached between 8-12% (an over 15-fold increase). “Functionally sterile” is defined as sperm counts below 20 million per milliliter of semen.Note: A recent report attaining media attention states sperm count has not declined over the past 4 decades.  However, note how the study used the dates of 1951 for the 1st comparison study.  1951 was well after the introduction of large amounts of chemicals into society and was a year in which vehicle emissions contained both high levels of lead and large amounts of toxic hydrocarbon/solvent combustion products.   Also, by 1951, pesticide use was making its way into consumer use.
Dr. Cecil JacobsonReproductive Genetics CenterVienna, Virginia 
Miscarriage more common with low sperm counts
Women experiencing miscarriages typically had husbands with lower sperm counts. On average,   48% of husband’s sperm appeared “abnormal”  (i.e. 2 heads, 2 tails, etc.) under microscopic examination. Men who fathered normal pregnancies had 25% higher sperm counts and only 5% visually abnormal sperm.
Drs. Mirjam Furuhjelm and Birgit JonsonDept. of Obst. and Gyn., Sabbatsberg Hospital, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, SwedenInternational J. of Fertility, 7(1):17-21, 1962
40% of couple infertility is due to the male. Dr. Pat McShaneDepartment of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Boston Massachusetts
Nationwide infertility rates
A study by the National Center for Health Statistics estimated in 1988 that 8.4% of women 15-44 years had impaired ability to have children and about half of these couples eventually conceive. (These are overall average infertility figures pertaining only to women – statistics will vary greatly depending on the age of the woman.  Couple infertility rates are nearly double this percentage since it then takes into account male infertility).
Dr. Howard JonesNew England Journal of MedicineDecember 2, 1993 pg. 1710Article entitled “The Infertile Couple”
Fertility treatments not very effective
Expensive fertility treatments resulted in only a 6 percentage point improvement in achieving pregnancy over “infertile” couples who just “kept trying.” In a study of 1,145 couples who had been diagnosed as infertile, only half of them were treated to help attain pregnancy. After a two to seven-year follow-up, pregnancies occurred in 41% of the treated couples and 35% of the untreated couples.
Dr. John A. CollinsProfessor of Obstetrics/GynecologyMcMaster University, Hamilton, OntarioNew England Journal of Medicine

November 17, 1983

More evidence fertility treatments not effective
Another study of 2,000 couples found “roughly the same” small improvements in achieving pregnancy when comparing couples who sought infertility treatments and those who kept trying.
Dr. John A. CollinsProfessor of Obstetrics/GynecologyMcMaster University, Hamilton, OntarioSterility Fertility Journal, Fall of 1993


Infertility treatments are a $1 billion a year industry HealthFactsVol. 19(176), January, 1994
Miscarriage rates higher living near agriculture
Mothers who lived near crops where certain pesticides were sprayed faced a 40 to 120 percent increase in risk of miscarriage due to birth defects.
Erin Bell (Ph.D.)
University of North Carolina
School of Public HealthSOURCE: Epidemiology, March 2001
“20% of all cases where the male is the only contributing factor to infertility can be corrected by lifestyle.” Dr. Wolfram NoltenDivision of Endocrinology and MetabolismUniversity of Wisconsin
Lower sperm count increases risk of miscarriage
The odds of having a miscarriage or child with birth defects raises dramatically when fathers have lower sperm counts. When the fathers sperm counts were above 80 million/ml they had only a 1% birth defect rate compared to 6% for the general population. Miscarriages were also lower for the fathers with higher sperm counts – 6% compared to 12% for the general population.
Dr. J. K. ShermanUniversity of Arkansas study of 1000 children whose mothers were artificially inseminated with sperm from men whose sperm counts were above 80 million per milliliter.Washington Star NewspaperJanuary 7, 1979
Smokers have lower sperm counts
Smokers sperm counts are on average 13%-17% lower than nonsmokers.
Dr. Marilyn F. VineUniversity of North CarolinaFertility Sterility Journal 6(1):35-43, 1994
Stopping smoking increases sperm counts
A study of three smokers who were followed for 5-15 months after stopping smoking reported that their sperm counts rose 50-800%, suggesting that toxic chemicals in the smoke are responsible and any reduction in sperm count is reversible.
(same article as above)
Smokers have more abnormal sperm
“Male smokers have an increase in sperm abnormalities, thereby suggesting a mutagenic effect.”
Quoted from the American J. of Epidemiology140(10):921-928, 1994The original study was reported in the journal Lancet, Volume 1:627-629, 1981
Cigarette consumption increases over 40 years
“Cigarette consumption in the U.S. has increased 3-4 fold from 1940 to the beginning of the 1980’s.”
Dr. R. J. RavaletPopulation Develop. Reviews 
Vol. 16:213-240, 1990
Smokers face higher infertility
38% of female non-smokers conceived in their 1st cycle of attempting pregnancy compared to 28% of smokers. Smokers were also 3-4 times more likely than non-smokers to have taken greater than a year to conceive.
Dr. D. BairdNational Institute of Environmental Health, NCJournal of American Medical AssociationVol. 253:2979-83, 1985
Abnormally shaped sperm linked to decreased fertilization
“A high number of abnormal sperm heads is associated with decreased fertilization. Some drugs such as sulphasalazine, used to treat inflammatory bowel disease can drastically reduce semen quality.”
Dr. N. E. SkakkebaekUniversity Dept. of Growth and ReproductionLancet, June 11, 1994, pg. 1474
Pesticides suspected of causing infertility
Men experiencing infertility were found to be employed in agricultural/pesticide related jobs 10 times more often than a study group of men not experiencing infertility. See related articles showing pesticides can damage sperm and testicles.
Dr. Hein StrokumInstitute of Sterility Treatment, Vienna, AustriaAmerican Journal of Industrial MedicineVol. 24:587-592, 1983
 Common pesticide reduces sperm count
Lower sperm counts and obvious damage to the quality of the sperm producing part of the testicles (called the seminiferous tubules), were found in test posed to the pesticide chlordane.
Drs. Khawla J. Balash, Muthanna A. Al-OmarUniv. of Baghdad, Biological Research CenterScientific Research Council, Baghdad, Iraq

Bulletin of Environmental Contamination Tox.

Vol. 39:434-442, 1987

Infertility caused by pesticide found in the air of most homes built before March 1988
Approximately 75% of U.S. homes are being being found to contain the pesticide chlordane in the breathable air. Of significant concern, over 5% of homes built before March of 1988 have been found to have air levels of the pesticide chlordane above the “safe” level of 5 micrograms per cubic meter. (In homes built before 1980 this is over 20%!).
Drs. Samuel S. Epstein, David Ozonoff School of Public Health, University of Illinois Medical Center, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MATeratogenesis, Carcinogenesis, & Mutagenesis Vol. 7:527-540, 1987
Autoantibodies higher in people exposed to pesticides
The pesticide Chlorpyrifos (Dursban) was found to cause increases in autoimmune antibodies in people exposed to the pesticide. Autoantibodies are “renegade” immune system components which mistakenly attack the persons own self. (Please see other references in this report which link some cases of male and female infertility to autoimmune disorders in which the immune cells attack either the sperm or egg.
Drs. Jack D. Thrasher, Roberta Madison et. al.Department of Health ScienceCalifornia State UniversityArchives of Environmental Health

Vol. 48(2), 1993 March/April

Car exhaust decreases fertility
The common car exhaust compound benzo(a)pyrene (BaP) causes a significant reduction in fertility in test animals and fertility was further lowered when animals were exposed to both BaP and lead simultaneously. Results showed approximately a 33% reduction in ovarian weight and a “marked reduction in ovarian follicles.”
Drs. P. Kristensen, Einar Eilertsen, et al.National Institute of Occupation Health, NorwayEnvironmental Health PerspectivesVol. 103:588-590, 1995
Coffee decreases fertility
A study of 1,909 women in Connecticut found the risk of not conceiving for 12 months (the usual definition of infertility), was 55% higher for women drinking 1 cup of coffee per day – 100% higher for women drinking 1 and one-half to 3 cups and 176% higher for women drinking more than 3 cups of coffee per day.
Hatah (1990)This study referenced by-Drs. Larry Dulgosz, Michael B. BrachsYale University School of Medicine

Epidemiologic Reviews

Vol. 14, pg. 83, 1992

Coffee increases miscarriage risk
Coffee drinking before and during pregnancy was associated with over twice the risk of miscarriage when the mother consumed 2-3 cups of coffee per day.
Dr. Claire Infante-Rivard
Department of Occupation Health
Faculty of Medicine
McGill University, Quebec Canada
Journal of the American Medical Association
December 22, 1993
Coffee reduces blood to the brain
Coffee drinking caused a 20-25% reduction in blood flow to the brains of healthy college volunteers 30 minutes after drinking 250 milligrams of caffeine (about the amount in a freshly brewed cup of coffee).
Dr. Roy J . MathewVanderbilt University, Nashville, TennesseeBritish Journal of Psychiatry, December, 1984
Spontaneous abortion after chemical exposure
Spontaneous abortion increased over 4-fold for women once they became employed as microelectronics assembly workers. This job was found to subject women to a number of chemical solvents used in cleaning the electronic components including xylene, acetone, trichlorethylene, petroleum distillates and others, as well as solder vapors. Acetone is also used in removing nail polish.
Drs. G. Huel, D. Mergler, R. BowlerQuebec Institute for Research in Occupational Health and Safety, University of Quebec, CanadaOccupational Medicine Clinic, University of California, San Francisco, CaliforniaBritish Journal of Industrial Medicine

Vol. 47:400-404, 1990

Cocaine and abnormal offspring
Cocaine exposure to males before conceiving is linked to abnormal development in offspring. The suspected cause is that cocaine binds onto the sperm and therefore, finds its way into the egg at fertilization.
Dr. Ricardo YazigiDepartment of Obstetrics and GynecologyWashington University School of MedicineJournal of the American Medical Association

Vol. 66(14), Oct. 9, 1991

Food Additive MSG reduces pregnancy success
MSG (Monosodium Glutamate), a common flavor enhancer added in foods, was found to cause infertility problems in test animals. Male rats fed MSG before mating had less than a 50% success rate (5 of 13 animals), whereas male rats not fed MSG had over a 92% success rate (12 of 13 animals). Also the offspring of the MSG treated males showed shorter body length, reduced testes weights and evidence of overweight at 25 days. MSG is found in ACCENT, flavored potato chips, Doritos, Cheetos, meat seasonings and many packaged soups.
Drs. William J. Pizzi, June E. Barnhart, et. al.Department of PsychologyNortheaster Illinois University, Chicago, IllinoisNeurobehavioral Toxicology

Vol. 2:1-4, 1979

“20-25% of miscarriages are due to immune system problems.” Dr. Salim DayaThe Fertility ClinicChedoke-McMaster Hospital, OntarioChatelaine Magazine, November, 1993
Miscarriages higher after chemical solvent exposure
Two solvent chemicals exposed to working pregnant mothers making silicon chips had a 33% miscarriage rate where normally the miscarriage rate is 15%.
Time MagazineOctober 22, pg. 27,1992
Male infertility and chemicals in drinking water
Drinking water from the Thames Water Supply in the United Kingdom was pinpointed as the cause of lower sperm counts and increases in abnormally shaped sperm. Common detergents were the chemical suspected as causing the reproductive damage.
Dr. Jean GinsburgLondon Royal Free HospitalLancet, Jan. 22
Anesthesia linked to birth defects
Birth defects occurred nearly 3 times more often in a study of 621 Michigan nurse anesthetists (a nurse who helps with anesthesia preparation). A total of 16.4% of the nurses practicing anesthesia during pregnancy had children with birth defects compared to only 5.7% of nurses not practicing anesthesia.
Drs. Thomas H. Corbett and Richard CornellAssistant Professor, University of MichiganAnesthesiology, 41(4), 1974
Malfunctioning immune system causes infertility
The rate of autoimmune antibodies (antibodies which mistakenly attack the person’s own body) was 33% in women unable to deliver a baby to full term and 0% in a control group of women with successful pregnancies.
Dr. Eli GeaIn Vitro Fertilization UnitSerlin Maternity HospitalTel Aviv, Israel

Fertility Sterility Journal, 62(4), October, 1994

Risks from medical fertility treatments
A common treatment for infertility is administration of follicle stimulating hormones. Regarding this treatment researchers stated, “Persistent stimulation of the ovary by gonadotropins may have a direct carcinogenic effect or an indirect effect attributable to raised concentration of estrogens.”
Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology,Radbond University, NetherlandsLancet, April 17, 1993, pg. 987
Alcohol reduces fertilization success
A large 50% reduction in conception was found in experiments of test animals given “intoxicating” doses of alcohol 24 hours prior to mating.
Dr. Theodore J. CiceroWashington University School of MedicineScience News, Vol. 146
In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) success rates depend on the woman’s age:under 35 years……. 45-50% success35-40 years………… 28-35% successage 41………………… 20% success

42 and older……….. 3% success

The cost of IVF can exceed $8,000- (IVF is fertilization taking place in a “test tube” after removal of a woman’s egg).


Dr. RosenwaksNew York HospitalCornell Medical CenterRedbook Magazine, August, 1993
Studies of “painters” found they are more likely to father children with defects of the central nervous system Dr. Andrew OlshanUniversity of North Carolina, Chapel HillU.S. News & World Report, December 14, 1992
Dental workers have higher rate of  pregnancy problems
More spontaneous abortions, stillbirths, and congenital defects occurred in dentists and dental assistants compared with the control group (24% compared to 11%, respectively). Five out of six malformations were spina bifida.
Drs. Birgitte Blatter, Marjolihn van der Star,
Nel RoeleveldDepartment of Medical Informatics and Epidemiology, University of Nijmegen, NetherlandsInternational Archives of Occupational & Environmental HealthVol. 59:551-557, 1987
Marijuana use at “moderate” levels was found to stop ovulation in monkeys for 103 to 135 days
Researchers also stated that the THC in marijuana may be directly toxic to the developing egg. Dr. Carol Smith, the main researcher, stated, “There are nervous pathways into the hypothalamus (a gland that regulates the reproductive cycle) that are being suppressed.”Dr. Smith also stressed that women who are attempting to conceive or who are pregnant should not use marijuana.
Dr. Carol Grace SmithUniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Md.Ricardo Asch, University of Texas, AustinScience, March 25, 1983

Also reported in Science News, March 26, 1983


Sperm damage was about 50% higher in after exposure to anesthesia enflurane.  Anesthesia levels given to the animals was equal to the level that could be given to humans. Dr. Paul C. Land and E. L. OwenDepartment of Anesthesia, Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago, IllinoisAnesthesiology, 54:53-56, 1981 
 Quotes from the Harvard Health Letter: “8-10% of sperm from healthy men are abnormal, some carry the wrong chromosome while others have bits and pieces of genetic material out of place.”

“Because a child conceived by intoxicated parents was thought to be unhealthy, the ancient cities of Carthage and Sparta had laws prohibiting the use of alcohol by newlyweds.”

“The earliest evidence of a link between job occupation and reproductive problems came out in 1860 when a French scientist noted that wives of lead workers were less likely to become pregnant, and if they did were more prone to miscarrying.”

“A survey of animal data indicates that paternal (father) exposure to environmental toxins – ranging from recreation drugs to industrial chemicals – apparently contribute to problems ranging from fetal loss and stillbirth to diminished aptitude for learning to perform tasks such as running a maze.”


 Harvard Health LetterOctober, 1992


Other Points from the Harvard Health Letter:

Men who work in aircraft industry or handle paints or chemical solvents have higher risk of producing children with brain tumors.

“Father exposure to paints linked to childhood Leukemias.”

Firemen appear to produce an unusually high number of abnormal sperm and be less fertile than other males. (This is believed to be due to the toxic smoke which results when carpets, furniture and paints are burned – of which today are made from synthetic/plastic based compounds).


Miscarriages warn of genetic damage
90% of fetuses with malformations are spontaneously aborted during early pregnancy. 60% of first trimester spontaneous abortions have chromosome abnormalities.
Dr. Frank M. SullivanDepartment of Pharmacology and ToxicologyUniversity of LondonEnvironmental Health Perspectives

101(Suppl.2):13-18, 1993

Little is known on the reproductive dangers of chemicals
Regarding chemicals in the workplace, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the European Economic Community (EEC) prepared lists of several thousand chemicals produced in amounts of more than 1000 tons per year and many produced at 10,000 tons/year. “Toxicological data of any type exist for a few hundred and reproductive toxicology data exist for probably 100.”
Dr. Frank M. SullivanDepartment of Pharmacology and ToxicologyUniversity of LondonEnvironmental Health Perspectives

101(Suppl.2):13-18, 1993

Miscarriage increases from chemical solvents:The major risk chemicals were:perchlorethylene (dry cleaning)….. 4.7 times greater risktrichloroethylene (dry cleaning)….. 3.1 times greater risk

paint thinners …………………………. 2.1 times greater risk

paint strippers …………………………. 2.1 times greater risk

glycol ethers (found in paints)…….. 2.9 times greater risk

Dr. Gayle C. Windham, Ph.D.Dr. Dennis Shusterman, MD, MPHSchool of Public HealthUniversity of California, Berkely

American Journal of Industrial Medicine

Vol. 20:241-259, 1991

Further evidence chemicals damage reproductionQuotes from Dr. Baranski, Institute of Occupation Medicine, Denmark: “Risk of infertility increased in females who reported exposures to textile dyes, dry cleaning chemicals, noise, lead, mercury and cadmium.”


“There was a significant risk of increased time to conception among women exposed to anti-rust agents, welding, plastic manufacturing, lead, mercury, cadmium, or anesthetic agents.”


“There was also an increased risk of delay to conception following male exposure to textile dyes, plastic manufacturing, and welding. Those who unpacked or handled antibiotics had a significant association with delayed pregnancy of at least 12 months.”


Dr. Boguslaw BaranskiInstitute of Occupational Medicine, Copenhagen, DenmarkConference on the Impact of the Environment and Reproductive Health held in Denmark, September 4, 1991Environmental Health Perspectives

Vol. 101(suppl 2), pg. 85, 1993

Biological reasons for infertility:Tubal Factors………………………… 36%Ovulatory Disorders ………………… 33%Endometriosis…………………….. ….. 6%

No known Cause……………………. 40%


Dr. David LindsayDepartment of Obstetrics and GynecologyMonash University, Melbourne, AustraliaLancet, June 18, 1994

Chromosome abnormalities occur in 26% of human oocytes (eggs) and 10% of sperm.


Recurrent miscarriage is associated with parental chromosome abnormalities, antiphospholipid antibodies and uterine cavity abnormalities. Premature ovarian failure (inability of ovaries to produce eggs) may be genetically determined or associated with autoimmune disease.” Dr. David LindsayDepartment of Obstetrics and GynecologyMonash University, Melbourne, AustraliaLancet, June 18, 1994
Jobs working around chemicals increase risk of stillbirth, preterm delivery and small birth weight  in a study of 2,096 mothers and 3,170 fathersWomen working in rubber, plastics or synthetics industry had an 80% greater chance of stillbirth. Father employment in the textile industry (chemical dyes, plastics, formaldehyde, etc.) resulted in their wives having a 90% greater risk of stillbirth. Exposure of the father to the chemicals polyvinyl alcohol and benzene (found in gasoline, cleaning solvents, adhesives and oil based paints) was associated with a 50% increase in preterm delivery.  Study funded by the March of DimesDrs. David A. Savitz, Elizabeth A. Whelan and Robert C. KlecknerSchool of Public Health, University of NCAmerican Journal of Epidemiology

Vol. 129(6):1201-1218, 1989

Chemicals found to mimic human estrogensA proper balance of natural estrogens in the body is essential for reproductive success. However, reports have been suggesting that environmental estrogens (chemicals which “mimic” our natural estrogens) are creating infertility problems by confusing the body’s estrogen receptors. Some pesticides have already been shown to be environmental estrogens. New research shows that more chemicals are being found to be environmental estrogens including the food additives butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) Other chemicals found to be somewhat estrogenic include, PVC plastics. Dr. Susan Jobling, Tracey Reynolds, Roger White, Malcolm G. Parker, and John SumpterDepartment of Biology and BiochemistryLaboratory of Molecular EndocrinologyBrunel University, London

Environmental Health Perspectives

Vol. 103:582-587, 1995