A pilot study associating urinary concentrations of phthalate metabolites and semen quality

Julia J. Wirth, Mary G. Rossano, Rachel Potter, Elizabeth Puscheck, Douglas C. Daly, Nigel Paneth, Stephen A. Krawetz, Bridget M. Protas, Michael P. Diamond

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Phthalates are ubiquitous industrial chemicals that are reported to adversely affect human reproductive outcomes. Divergent effects on semen quality have been reported in a limited number of studies. To assess the possible contribution of regional differences in phthalate exposure to these results, we wished to determine if ambient phthalate exposure of men from the Great Lakes region was associated with human sperm parameters. Male partners (N=45) of subfertile couples presenting to a Michigan infertility clinic were recruited. Urinary concentrations of several phthalate metabolites were measured in these men. Semen parameters, measured according to the World Health Organization [WHO 1999] protocols, were divided into those at or above WHO cutoffs for motility (50% motile), concentration (20thinsp;million/mL) and morphology (4% normal) and those below. Phthalate metabolite concentrations were divided into those concentrations above the median and those at or below the median. Specific gravity was used as a covariate in the regression models to adjust for urine dilution. Low sperm concentration was significantly associated with above median concentrations of monoethyl phthalate (MEP) (OR=6.5, 95% CI: 1.0-43.6) and low morphology with above median concentrations of mono-3-carboxypropyl phthalate (OR=7.6, 95% CI: 1.7-33.3). Increased odds for low concentration and above median concentrations of metabolites of di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) (OR=5.4, 95% CI: 0.9-30.8) and low morphology and above median concentrations of MEP (OR=3.4, 95% CI: 0.9-13.8) were also found. A significant trend was observed for tertiles of MEP and low sperm concentration (p=0.05). Results suggest that ambient phthalate metabolite concentrations may adversely affect human semen quality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-154
Number of pages12
JournalSystems Biology in Reproductive Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The analysis of the phthalate metabolites by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is gratefully acknowledged. This work is supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Grant Number ES11856.


  • Great Lakes
  • biomonitoring
  • exposure
  • phthalate
  • sperm

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Urology


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