Common pesticides linked to reduction in sperm count, study finds

Pesticides are depleting sperm counts, contributing to a potential infertility crisis, according to recent research

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published November 16, 2023 12:19PM (EST)

Farmer spraying pesticide on field (Getty Image/Toa55)
Farmer spraying pesticide on field (Getty Image/Toa55)

Pesticides are commonly used to protect the foods that we eat from insects and pathogens — but, according to a recent study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, they may also be destroying the vitality of sperm in the process. As American and Italian scientists demonstrated, there are two commonly used pesticides linked with plummeting sperm counts: organophosphates and N-methyl carbamates. The researchers analyzed the sperm concentration in men who work in agriculture and are therefore exposed to unusually large quantities of these chemicals, then compared them to the sperm concentrations of men with the least exposure.

“While there are likely many more contributing causes, our study demonstrates a strong association between two common insecticides — organophosphates and N-methyl carbamates — and the decline of sperm concentration," senior study author Melissa Perry, dean of the College of Public Health at George Mason University, told CNN.

As Perry noted, pesticides are not alone in targeting sperm for destructions. Over the past half-century sperm concentrations have declined by roughly 50% all over the world for a number of reasons. A study published last year in Environmental Health Perspectives linked lowered sperm quality to so-called "forever chemicals," or PFAS. It found that when pregnant mothers were exposed to a a mixture of seven common PFAS during the first trimesters of their pregnancy, their male children had "lower sperm concentration, lower total sperm count, and higher proportions of nonprogressive and immotile sperm in young adulthood." Obesity and plastic pollution are also linked to lower sperm counts.

MORE FROM Matthew Rozsa