Exposure to mercury vapour or inorganic mercury compounds can impair fertility in laboratory animals. To study the effects of mercury vapour on fertility in women, eligibility questionnaires were sent to 7000 registered dental assistants in California. The final eligible sample of 418 women, who had become pregnant during the previous four years, were interviewed by telephone. Detailed information was collected on mercury handling practices and the number of menstrual cycles without contraception it had taken them to become pregnant. Dental assistants not working with amalgam served as unexposed controls. Women with high occupational exposure to mercury were less fertile than unexposed controls. The fecundability (probability of conception each menstrual cycle) of women who prepared 30 or more amalgams per week and who had five or more poor mercury hygiene factors was only 63% of that for unexposed women (95% CI 42%-96%) after controlling for covariates. Women with low exposure were more fertile, however, than unexposed controls. Possible explanations for the U shaped dose response and limitations of the exposure measure are discussed. Further investigation is needed that uses biological measures of mercury exposure.
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