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Men Exposed to Formaldehyde On-the-Job Risk Fertility Problems

formaldehyde, male infertility, occupational exposure to chemicals

Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong-smelling gas that is often found in water-based solutions and most commonly used as a preservative. Workers can inhale the gas vapor or absorb it through the skin. Acute exposure is highly irritating to the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract and long-term exposure has been linked to several types of cancer. New research finds that those exposed to formaldehyde on-the-job may also risk fertility problems.

Dr. Dang-xia Zhou of Xi’an Jiaotong University in China studied approximately 300 married men working at a wood processing facility. China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of formaldehyde. Reproductive outcomes for the wives of men with and without chemical occupational exposure were documented.

Women married to men exposed to formaldehyde had longer times to pregnancy (TTP) than the wives of men not exposed – nearly three times higher. Formaldehyde exposure was also associated with nearly a two-time higher rate of miscarriage. The reproductive toxicity was “dose dependent,” with those exposed to higher level having greater rates of fertility problems.

Formaldehyde has been classified as a known human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and as a probable human carcinogen by the US Environmental Protection Agency. It is used to produce many products such as pressed-wood (particleboard, plywood and fiberboard), glues and adhesives, permanent press fabrics, paper product coatings and certain insulation materials.

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Materials containing formaldehyde can release gas or vapor into the air. Exposure to the chemical is most often due to inhalation. According to the National Cancer Institute, OSHA, in 1987, established a Federal standard that reduced the amount of formaldehyde to which workers can be exposed over an 8-hour workday from 3 ppm to 1 ppm. In May 1992, the standard was amended, and the formaldehyde exposure limit was further reduced to 0.75 ppm.

To limit personal exposure to formaldehyde, the EPA recommends the use of “exterior-grade” pressed-wood products which emit less formaldehyde because they contain phenol resins instead of urea resins. Formaldehyde levels in homes can also be reduced by ensuring adequate ventilation, moderate temperatures, and reduced humidity levels through the use of air conditioners and dehumidifiers.

In the workplace, employers are encouraged to identify those workers exposed to formaldehyde at or above the OSHA action level and consider reassigning them to where they will have less exposure, especially if they are displaying symptoms of adverse effects. All mixtures or solutions that are composed of greater than 0.1 percent formaldehyde should be labeled. Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be provided, such as impervious clothing, gloves, aprons, and chemical splash goggles.

Journal Reference:
Hai-xu Wang, Dang-xia Zhou, Lie-rui Zheng, Jing Zhang, Yong-wei Huo, Hong Tian, Shui-ping Han, Jian Zhang, Wen-bao Zhao. Effects of Paternal Occupation Exposure to Formaldehyde on Reproductive Outcomes. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 2012; : 1 DOI:10.1097/JOM.0b013e31824e6937

Additional Resources:
National Cancer Institute: Formaldehyde and Cancer Risk
Occupational Safety and Health Administration: OSHA Fact Sheet – Formaldehyde