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Fertility Week tackles chemicals in the home that can affect fertility in men and women


Fertility Week, held this year between 15 and 21 October, is a national campaign run by Your Fertility, a government-funded public education program designed to improve knowledge about modifiable factors that can affect fertility and pregnancy health. In October this year, Fertility Week examined the subject of chemicals in the home that can affect male and female fertility. This information is useful for everyone of childbearing age. Your Fertility is provided by the Fertility Coalition: Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment AuthorityAndrology AustraliaJean Hailes Research Unit and The Robinson Research Institute.

In our modern everyday life we are all exposed to many different chemicals through the products we use, the food we eat, and the air we breathe. Studies show that a particular group of chemicals called endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) can have negative effects on female and male reproductive health. While the effects are subtle, it is important to increase awareness of EDCs, what they do, and how to reduce exposure to them to improve chance of conception. Here is a summary of what is known about EDCs and human fertility and tips to share with patients about how to minimise exposure to them.

What are EDCs?


EDCs are found in the air, soil, water, food, and manufactured products. They can interfere with the body’s normal functioning, including the reproductive systems of women and men. Some EDCs occur naturally in food. Soy beans and flax seeds for example are high in phytoestrogen which mimics the effects of oestrogen. However, one would need to consume an awful lot of these foods for the phytoestrogen to affect the reproductive system. More concerning is that there are around 800 artificial EDCs in everyday items, such as plastics of food containers, personal care items, and food products. EDCs are also present in manufacturing and industrial and agricultural processes.

What EDCs do

Because we are exposed to combinations of so many different types of chemicals it is often not possible to know exactly if and how individual chemicals affect our health. But in the case of EDCs, studies have found that they can have negative effects on male and female reproductive health by mimicking or blocking oestrogen and testosterone. This can cause: changes in hormone levels, decreased sperm and egg quality, damage to the DNA in sperm, longer menstrual cycles, taking longer to achieve a pregnancy, increased risk of miscarriage, and earlier menopause.

Research shows that EDCs are present in 95% of people tested, and that people who are infertile have higher levels of some EDCs. People who are exposed to high levels of some EDCs through their work have increased risk of fertility difficulties. Notably, among couples who use assisted reproductive technology (ART) to conceive, higher levels of some EDCs have been shown to decrease the chance of pregnancy.

Types of EDCs and where they are found

This table summarises the main EDCs that can affect reproductive health and where they are found

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Chemical Where it is found
Bisphenols (BPA/BPS/BPF) Widely used in plastic products, lining of tin cans and thermal cash register receipts printed on paper with a glossy sheen. Leaches from many products into food.
Phthalates Added to plastics to increase flexibility and durability and found in toys, footwear, food packaging, medical devices, and personal care products.
Parabens Used as preservative and in anti-bacterial products, and found in food, cosmetics and personal care products.
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) Used in electrical devices and industrial lubricants and found in flame retardants in furniture. By-products of industrial processes such as metal and paper production, wood incineration or heating plastics.
Pesticides, herbicides and insecticides Found in most garden sheds and sprayed on many food products and crops sold commercially.
Heavy metals (e.g. aluminium, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury) Exposure occurs through smoking, air pollution, dental fillings, consumption of contaminated food and drink, and contact with petrol, industrial and household products.


While it is not possible to avoid exposure to EDCs, some simple steps can be taken to reduce exposure to them. This is especially important for women and men who plan to have children. Here are some practical tips for reducing exposure to EDCs:

  • Washing fruit and vegetables to remove any chemicals that they have been sprayed with.
  • Eating fewer processed and pre-packaged foods, as EDCs are present in the material used to coat the inside of cans.
  • Limiting how much oily fish (salmon, tuna, sardines) and fatty meats you eat reduces your consumption of chemicals that can accumulate in the fat of some animals.
  • Avoiding handling shiny sales receipts – they’re covered in chemicals.
  • Drinking water and soft drinks from glass or hard plastic bottles rather than soft plastic bottles, as EDC-containing plasticisers are used to make plastic bottles flexible.
  • Never heating food in soft plastic ‘takeaway’ containers or those covered with cling wrap or tin foil. When these products are heated, the chemicals in the plastic or foil is absorbed into the food, especially if the food is fatty. Instead, use a china or glass bowl and cover with a paper towel or plate. It is also important to keep in mind that plastic advertised as ‘BPA free’, for example, may contain replacement chemicals such BPS which can be just as harmful.
  • Avoiding air fresheners, smoke, strong chemicals, heavily perfumed products, plastic smells and fumes. If you can smell it, it is in high concentration!
  • Airing your home frequently to reduce the chance of breathing in chemical particles.
  • Choosing ‘green’ gardening products where possible and avoiding pesticides and herbicides in the garden.
  • Replacing strong household cleaning products with ‘green’ alternatives wherever possible. Household products which can have problematic chemicals include detergents, hand sanitisers, cleaning agents, and carpet cleaners; EDCs can also be found in glues, paints, and varnishes.
  • Reading the labels on all personal care products such as cosmetics, shampoos, conditioners, hair colourings and body washes and choosing those that are free of parabens.
  • Reading the labels on all food products and avoiding those with additives, preservatives and anti-bacterial agents.

Fact sheets for health professionals and the general public about the impact of environmental chemicals and other fertility-related topics are available for download at

Article provided by Your Fertility

References available on