The potential reproductive toxicity of mercury vapour was investigated by comparing the rate of spontaneous abortions among the wives of 152 workers occupationally exposed to mercury vapour with the rate among the wives of 374 controls in the same plant. The results indicate an increase in the rate of spontaneous abortions with an increasing concentration of mercury in the fathers' urine before pregnancy. At concentrations above 50 micrograms/l the risk of spontaneous abortion doubles (odds ratio (OR) = 2.26; 95% confidence interval (95% CI) = 0.99-5.23). Special care was taken to avoid bias in reporting abortions and known risk factors of spontaneous abortions do not seem to explain the results. Several biological mechanisms might account for them including, in particular, direct action of mercury on the paternal reproductive system and indirect toxicity to the mother or embryo through transport of mercury from the father. These indications could be of practical importance and should therefore be further documented.
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