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Ontonagon, MI 49953


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Reproductive Hazards


How many people do you know that waited to have kids until after they got more financially secure?  So, they work and put money away, buy the house, and then find they have trouble conceiving or bringing a child to term.

Data from the 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth studies of women under the age of 44 show that 7.3 million women, or their partners, used infertility services, 1.5 million married women were barren and 3.1 million married women had difficulty in becoming, or remaining, pregnant. 

Treatments for infertility can carry significant health risks to the mother and child.  Including gynecologic and breast cancer for the mother, increased odds of having twins or more multiple births resulting in low birth weight, premature birth, and other hazards to mother or child(ren).

Occupational routes of exposure include inhalation, skin absorption, and swallowing/ingestion.  Chemicals can be carried home on the employee’s hair, skin or body fluids of worker, contaminated clothing or materials from workplace.  It’s the most natural thing in the world to hug your partner when you get home from work but any chemical contamination you brought with you is no on her or him.

Women working during pregnancy can expose their baby to chemicals that can cross the placental barrier resulting in spontaneous abortion, stillbirths, low birth weight, premature birth, or miscarriage.  Some chemically caused adverse reproductive health effects are permanent, and some are reversible when exposure ceases.  Some effects are dependent on exposure during certain stages of pregnancy. 

For example, exposure to some chemicals during the first 3 months of pregnancy cause birth defects or miscarriage while exposure during the last 6 months could cause premature labor, slow fetal growth or may adversely affect the development of the baby’s brain.

After the baby is born exposures to some chemicals can contaminate their breast milk.  As the child grows birth defects, such as physical abnormalities present at birth may become apparent.  Other effects on the child include transmissible mutations, brain tumors, malformations, learning disabilities, developmental disorders, and childhood cancer.

Workplace reproductive hazards can cause health problems for the potential parents that have been linked to sex hormone imbalance, reduced fertility or infertility, Menstrual cycle and ovulatory disorders in women.  Reproductive hazards affecting men may cause reduced fertility or infertility, erectile dysfunction, and affect sexual function.  Sperm or semen can be affected by workplace hazards. Some chemicals can concentrate in semen.

The main problem facing our workforce today is that there are so many chemicals currently being used that have not been studied or the study results are inconclusive, so the chemical never gets classified as a reproductive hazard.

According to OSHA there are more than 1,000 Reproductive toxins identified in animal studies, but most have not yet been studied in humans.  Where adverse effects on the ability to bear healthy children have been linked to occupational exposures while the employee is still working for the employer where they were exposed they are reported to OSHA via the annual summary of work-related injury and illnesses as “All other illnesses”.

The American Chemical Society’s Chemical Abstract Service, CAS, assigns each unique, new chemical identified by their scientists a CAS # for inclusion into the database, which is updated daily.  The registry maintains current and accurate data for over 150 million unique chemical substances. 

In 2017 the Service reported that 15,000 new substances were added daily. The Environmental Protection Agency reported that, on April 16, 2019 they had 500 cases under review.  Since the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act of 2016 was passed on June 22nd the EPA has reviewed 2,017 new chemicals (not on the Toxic Substances Control Act Inventory), or less than 3 completed reviews per day.

Chemicals are being processed into nanoparticles so small they slip through the skin with potential to create new and unpredictable reproductive and other adverse health effects.    For example, Titanium Dioxide is a very common chemical, used in a lot of different products and processes.  It has been amply studied and found to be nontoxic.  However, when manufactured as a nanoparticle studies show it is carcinogenic.

The bottom line is that when your Safety Data Sheet says it has no information regarding reproductive hazards it does not mean the chemical has no reproductive hazard.  It means that the manufacturer does not know one way or the other.

Since reproductive toxins adversely effect both men and women not hiring women or firing pregnant women is not only against affirmative action laws but an ineffective way to manage employee family health. 

The most effective way to protect your male and female employees from such toxins is to replace them with safer chemicals.  If that is not possible your next step is to identify all locations and methods of contact between the chemical and the employee and reduce or eliminate them. 

For example, if you have a heated process that increases the amount of chemical that can be inhaled you have two options:

  1. Find a way to create the product without heating in the process.
  2. Enclose the process to completely capture all of the vapor or gas emitting from the heated areas/machinery.

Keep in mind, while employees gave up the right to sue their employers when Worker’s Comp laws were passed their spouses, significant others, and children did not.  I’m not a lawyer and have not researched case law but, if an additional reason is really necessary now that you are informed, it is something to think about.

When you have employee exposures to reproductive toxins you must work with a Certified Industrial Hygienist.  It is not possible to attain Certification without a strong background in chemistry, toxicology, and epidemiology.

Before going back for my master’s degree in industrial health from the University of Michigan I was a Chemical Hygiene Officer for 6 years in Molecular Biology labs.  We extracted and worked with DNA and RNA so most of the chemicals we used were intended to change the genetic material.

If you have concerns about the hazards of the chemicals your employees use everyday please contact me, I can help.

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