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Environmental Risks to Female Fertility

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There has been much in the male infertility news lately about environmental risks and the role they play. The world around us also plays a significant role in female fertility, and a number of environmental risk factors are under scrutiny for causing infertility in women.

Plastic Compounds

Phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) are used to soften plastics in bottles and containers, and can be found in powders, lotions, and shampoos. In animal studies, phthalates have been shown to cause infertility and birth defects, including damaging reproductive organs in male fetuses. A number of recent studies have revealed BPA is dangerous for neurological growth infants and children, but these chemicals are also considered a factor in hormonal changes that may affect fertility in mothers.

Secondhand Smoke

Numerous international studies have found the chemicals in cigarettes reduce women’s receptiveness to fertility, increase the risk of miscarriage, increase the risk of abnormalities in the fetus, and can even contribute to earlier menopause and shortened menstrual periods. Even when women do not smoke, the toxins from secondhand smoke and its role on infertility are dangerous. In fact, a 2005 study out of Canada on secondhand smoke and in vitro fertilization (IVF) found that while there wasn’t a difference in pregnancy rates of smokers and nonsmokers, the rates of those exposed to secondhand smoke was less than half that the success rate of nonsmokers not exposed to secondhand smoke.

Occupational Solvents

Sometimes the workplace can be the culprit behind infertility, especially when a woman works around chemicals and toxins. Exposure to chloroform, ethylene glycol ethers and other solvents often used in dental offices showed an increased risk of spontaneous abortion, while a study of nursing and pharmacy staff found women exposed to antineoplastic agents (drugs primarily used to treat cancer) during pregnancy had significant increased risk of spontaneous abortion, as well. Women looking to avoid toxins should wear face masks, be sure to get proper ventilation, and wear protective clothing to prevent chemicals from being absorbed into the body.


Both radiation from X-rays and chemotherapy can damage ovaries and eggs and cause permanent infertility in women, especially when chemotherapy is used to treat breast, ovarian and lung cancer, leukemia, lymphoma and Hodgkin’s disease. For women hoping to conceive, it is recommended that eggs be collected and cryopreserved prior to radiation treatment.