OBJECTIVE: To examine the possible influence of exposure to toluene on human fertility. METHODS: In a cross sectional study, a sample of 150 male and 90 female printing industry workers were interviewed retrospectively on reproductive experience with a modified version of the European study of infertility and subfecundity questionnaire. Exposure categories comprised job descriptions and information on exposure measurements obtained by industrial hygienists. The fecundability ratio (FR) was estimated on the basis of time to pregnancy (TTP) or periods of unprotected intercourse not leading to pregnancy (PUNP) by means of survival analysis with proportional hazard models. Confounders such as age, ethnicity, smoking, parity, pelvic inflammatory diseases, and frequency of sexual intercourse were controlled for in the analyses. RESULTS: 256 Periods of TTP or PUNP were reported by men and 174 by women. After exclusion of induced abortions, birth control failures, and periods without employment for female workers we were able to analyse 169 periods in men and 100 periods in women. Male workers who had been exposed to different concentrations of toluene and their partners did not show a reduction in fecundity. In women (39 periods occurred during exposure) fecundity was reduced (FR 0.47, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 0.29 to 0.77). Neither, restriction to only the first period nor exclusion of PUNPs changed the results (FR 0.48, 95% CI 0.24 to 0.97). CONCLUSION: After considering possible biases, low daily exposure to toluene in women seems to be associated with reduced fecundity. This result is in accordance with other findings for organic solvents and supports both the hypotheses that (a) organic solvents could affect hormonal regulation, and that (b) organic solvents increase early fetal losses which in turn contributes to longer times of unprotected intercourse.
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