A recent study suggests that adolescent exposure to organochlorine pesticides such as DDT may lead to defective sperm and consequently fertility problems later in life.
“We need more research to find out how these organochlorine pollutants may be affecting the maturation of the testicles and their function,” Melissa Perry, lead author of the study and chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at Milken Institute, said in a statement. “Exposure to these chemicals in adolescence may lead to reproductive problems years later.”
For the study, Perry led a team that collected and analyzed sperm and blood samples from 90 men who lived in an island community on the Faroe Islands, the north Atlantic. The island’s population consumes a seafood-rich diet, including pilot whale meat and blubber, which leads to higher-than-average exposures to organochlorine pollutants including polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs and the main metabolite of the insecticide DDT.
Blood samples taken at age 14 were available for 33 of the men included in the study.
In addition to measuring the amount of organochlorine pesticides in the blood samples, the team used a sperm imaging method devised by Perry’s lab to detect sperm disomy, a condition in which sperm cells have an abnormal number of chromosomes.
The reasearch team found that men with higher levels of the DDT metabolite and PCBs, both as adults and at age 14, had significantly higher rates of sperm disomy.
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Organochlorine pesticides such as DDT were used extensively through the 1960s and are now banned in the US. However, they are still used in some tropical countries and even in places that do not use them anymore, these chemicals still linger in the soil and water. People can be exposed to these pollutants by eating a diet with lots of meat, dairy and fatty fish.
“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 said.
The study appeared in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.