Exposure to some types of industrial chemicals can adversely affect reproductive health for both males and females. Scientists already suspect one group of chemicals, known as phthalates, as a cause of male infertility but now there is evidence that exposure to these chemicals may negatively affect a woman’s ovarian response to in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments.

Manufacturers use phthalates to make plastic products stronger and more difficult to break; phthalates are sometimes referred to as “plasticizers.” Industries also use phthalates as dissolving agents for other materials. Hundreds of products contain phthalates, including vinyl flooring, adhesives, detergents, lubricating oils, automotive plastics, and raincoats. Personal hygiene products also commonly contain phthalates, including soap, shampoo, hair spray, and nail polishes. Many articles of plastic clothing, like raincoats, also contain these chemicals. Plastic packaging film, plastic sheets, garden hoses, blood-storage containers, and medical tubing contain phthalates, as do some inflatable toys and children's toys.

Dr. Irene Souter of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston announced the study results at the July 2013 meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. The study followed the progress of 231 women scheduled for IVF at Massachusetts General Hospital between 2004 and 2012. Researchers analyzed the participants’ urine, looking for signs of four primary types of phthalates. The scientists then correlated urine results with three markers of response to IVF: the number of eggs produced following ovarian stimulation, embryo development, and implantation failure.

Urine tests showed traces of phthalates in almost all the women, reflecting widespread exposure to this industrial chemical. Study results showed the odds of implantation failure correlated with phthalates found in the urine. The research also reveals that exposure to phthalates, as evidenced by its presence in the urine, also reduces the number of eggs available for harvesting during IVF procedures.

The test results seem to indicate the effect of phthalates on the ovarian response is dose-dependent, meaning exposure to higher doses of phthalates results in a higher incidence of implantation failure. However, high exposure to phthalates does not negatively affect fertilization rate or embryo development.

Source: European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. "Adverse effects of phthalates on ovarian response to IVF." ScienceDaily, 8 Jul. 2013. Web. 24 Sep. 2013.