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Exposure to Pesticides As Teenagers Might Cause Sperm Disomy in Adult Years

Males exposed to pollutants called organochlorines during their teenage years might develop defective sperms later, says a new study entitled “Sperm Aneuploidy in Faroese Men with Lifetime Exposure to Dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE) and Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCB) Pollutants”, published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

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The research performed by scientists from the Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University marks the first time exposure as teenagers to the chemicals has been correlated with anomalous sperm linked with fertility issues in later years.

“We need more research to find out how these organochlorine pollutants may be affecting the maturation of the testicles and their function,” says lead author Melissa Perry, professor and chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at Milken Institute SPH. “Exposure to these chemicals in adolescence may lead to reproductive problems years later.”

Perry and her team analysed samples of sperm and blood taken from 90 men from The Faroe Islands situated in the North Atlantic; 33 of the men had had blood samples from the age of 14 taken.

The island’s population is thought to be exposed to organochlorine pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and the main metabolite of the insecticide DDT because of their high consumption of seafood like pilot whale meat and blubber.

The researchers measured the quantity of organochlorine pesticides present in the blood samples. They also took to a sperm imaging technique to identify cases of sperm disomy which is a condition characterised by an abnormal number of chromosomes in sperm cells.

The results showed that men with higher levels of the PCBs and the DDT metabolite as adults and as 14-year-old teenagers also had a considerably greater rate of sperm disomy. This seems to confirm previous findings of
Perry’s who had found a similar correlation in men from the US. Perry believes that more studies should be done to support the results. In the meantime, she explains that consumers can limit their exposure to the pollutants.

“Most people can reduce their exposure to PCBs and DDT by cutting back on foods that are high in animal fats and choosing fish wisely,” Perry says.

She also adds that such findings should prompt authorities to refine their decision-making processes.

“This study, and others like it, suggest that any decisions about putting biologically active chemicals into the environment must be made very carefully as there can be unanticipated consequences down the road.”

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