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Plastics Chemicals Tied to Reproductive Woes

Early studies found higher miscarriage rates in women, lowered fertility in men
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The widespread exposure to these chemicals has further increased concern. For example, nearly all Americans have detectible levels of BPA in their urine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The first study involved 114 women recruited during early pregnancy testing. Researchers took blood samples, then compared BPA levels in their blood to the outcome of their pregnancies.

BPA levels were higher among women who miscarried, Lathi said. Researchers could not say exactly why, however.

"Until further studies are performed, women with unexplained miscarriages may avoid BPA to reduce one potential risk factor," she said.

In the second study, doctors took urine samples from 501 couples who decided to attempt pregnancy between 2005 and 2009.

Researchers tested the urine for BPA and phthalates. Couples kept daily journals on their intercourse, lifestyle, menstruation and pregnancy test results. They were monitored until they either conceived or a year passed without conception.

Statistical analysis revealed that male -- but not female -- phthalate concentrations are associated with a roughly 20 percent reduction in reproductive success. It took longer for couples to conceive, if they conceived at all, when men carried high levels of phthalates.

Couples who are pregnant or attempting to become pregnant should avoid contact with potential sources of phthalates or BPA, Lathi and Giudice said.

That may be harder than it sounds. For example, BPA and phthalates can spread by touch as well as by ingestion, and cash register receipts and canned food linings often contain BPA resins, Lathi said.

People should avoid using plastic containers to microwave foods, as the chemicals from the plastic can leach into the edibles. "Don't leave your plastic water bottle in your car in the sun and have it heat up a lot," Giudice added. "The levels of BPA increase about a thousand-fold in a bottle that's been sitting in the sun."

Industry spokeswoman St. John said the studies should not cause any alarm.

"It is important to note that both of the studies rely on analysis of single-spot samples of blood or urine to measure BPA exposure," she said. "Studies of this type have essentially no capability to establish a cause-effect relationship since BPA has only a very short half-life in the body and, as a result, levels in blood or urine will have very high variability even within a day."

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