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Farm Chemicals Linked to Lower Sperm Counts

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Follow-up studies of men in rural mid-Missouri who had lower sperm counts and quality than their peers in urban centers have identified three agricultural chemicals linked to the problem.

Shanna Swan, a professor of family and community medicine at the University of Missouri-Columbia, has confirmed that men with lower sperm counts and quality had higher concentrations of alachlor, diazinon and atrazine metabolites in their urine than men with higher-quality sperm. These three chemicals are used in agriculture operations throughout the Midwest.

Swan's study compared pesticide exposure in two groups: men with low sperm concentration and quality, and men with better semen quality. Although men were drawn from both mid-Missouri (a mostly rural area) and Minneapolis, Minn., (a highly urban setting), links between pesticides and semen quality were detected only in Missouri men.

Swan obtained urine samples from both groups and tested them for 15 currently used pesticides. Samples from Missouri men with poor semen quality contained significantly higher concentrations of alachlor, atrazine, and diazinon metabolites than samples from men with higher-quality sperm. Men with high levels of alachlor were 30 times more likely to have poor semen quality than men with low levels. Swan found no correlation between semen quality and pesticides used primarily in the home, such as DEET.

We think it is likely that men are ingesting these chemicals through their drinking water,'' Swan said.Some water filters do claim to rid the system of these chemicals. We need to analyze men's home tap water and examine alternative water treatment methods to determine levels of these chemicals currently in the water supply and to find effective ways to remove them.''

More information is available at Carolyn Susman writes for The Palm Beach Post. E-mail: carolyn-susman(at)


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c. 2003 Cox News Service

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