Several studies suggest that welding is detrimental to the male reproductive system. Welding fume and radiant heat are of interest as possible causal factors. This study investigates semen quality and sex hormone concentrations among 17 manual metal arc alloyed steel welders with a moderate exposure to radiant heat (globe temperature ranging from 31.1 degrees to 44.8 degrees C), but without substantial exposure to welding fume toxicants. During exposure to heat the skin temperature in the groin increased on average by 1.4 degrees C (SE +/- 0.72 degrees C). Sperm count and motile sperm count were non-significantly reduced among welders in comparison with two different reference groups. Within the group of welders the proportion of sperm with normal shape declined significantly after six weeks of exposure to heat and increased after a break in exposure. Sperm count and sperm concentration had the same pattern of intraindividual change in relation to exposure to radiant heat, but the changes were not statistically significant. No consistent changes in concentrations of sex hormones were found. The welders investigated were more exposed to radiant heat than welders in general. The results suggest that the study group of welders experienced a reversible decrease in semen quality, most likely caused by a moderate exposure to radiant heat (about five hours a day through several weeks). It remains to be established if even lower levels of exposure to radiant heat in the general population of welders has any impact on semen quality and fertility.
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