To evaluate whether long term exposure to 2-ethoxyethanol (2EE) may affect semen quality, a cross sectional study was conducted among men exposed to 2EE used as a binder slurry in a metal castings process. Full shift breathing zone exposures to 2EE ranged from non-detectable to 24 ppm (geometric mean 6.6 ppm). Because of the potential for substantial absorption of 2EE through skin exposure, urine measurements of the metabolite of 2EE, 2-ethoxyacetic acid (2EAA) were conducted, showing levels of 2EAA ranging from non-detectable to 163 mg 2EAA/g creatinine. Only 37 exposed men (50% participation) and 39 non-exposed comparison (26% participation) from elsewhere in the plant provided a sperm sample. A questionnaire to determine personal habits, and medical and work histories, and a physical examination of the urogenital tract were also administered. The average sperm count per ejaculate among the workers exposed to 2EE was significantly lower than that of the unexposed group (113 v 154 million sperm per ejaculate respectively; p = 0.05) after consideration of abstinence, sample age, subjects' age, tobacco, alcohol and caffeine use, urogenital disorders, fever, and other illnesses. The mean sperm concentrations of the exposed and unexposed groups did not significantly differ from each other (44 and 53 million/ml respectively). No effect of exposure to 2EE on semen volume, sperm viability, motility, velocity, and normal morphology or testicular volume was detected, although some differences in the proportion of abnormal sperm shapes were observed. These data suggest that there may be an effect of 2EE on sperm count among these workers, although the possibility that other factors may be affecting the semen quality in both exposed and unexposed men in this population or that the results reflect bias introduced by the low participation rates cannot be excluded.
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