Study Links BPA in Plastics to Erectile Dysfunction


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WEDNESDAY, Nov. 11, 2009 ( — Bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical found in hard, clear plastic used to make everything from baby bottles to food packaging, may increase the risk of erectile dysfunction and other sexual problems in male factory workers exposed to large amounts of the substance, according to a study conducted in China.

The health effects of BPA have been hotly debated; although some studies have linked BPA to a risk of brain damage, birth defects, hyperactivity, heart disease, early puberty, obesity, and prostate cancer, other research suggests that the low level of exposure from plastics doesn’t pose a health risk to adults. (The picture is less clear for children.)

Part of the problem is that much of the research has been conducted in mice and other animals, and its validity in humans is controversial. Although not conclusive, the potential health effects have caused some baby-bottle and water-bottle manufacturers to stop using the chemical, at least in part because of public concern. (BPA is not found in soft, pliable plastic used in most water bottles).

Now, the new study—one of the first to be conducted in humans—seems to support a finding previously reported only in animal research.

Among the men who work with BPA, the risk of having difficulty ejaculating was seven times greater than it was among the non-exposed group, and the risk of erectile problems was more than four times greater. The BPA-exposed workers also reported higher rates of low sex drive and lower overall satisfaction with their sex lives, according to the study, published this week in Human Reproduction and funded by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.

Researchers compared the rates of sexual dysfunction in two groups of workers in China—230 men who worked at factories that produce BPA or epoxy resin (which contains the chemical), and some 400 men, including workers in other industries, who were not exposed to abnormally high levels of BPA. Epoxy resin is used in the lining of canned foods and is another potential source of BPA in addition to hard, clear plastic.

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