In an article published on December 7, 2016 by the news provider Environmental Health News, journalist Brian Bienkowski reports on a study that focused on couples undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) and looked at associations between their urinary levels of phthalates and phthalate alternatives, and the quality of embryos. The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Human Reproduction and conducted by Haotian Wu and colleagues from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Baystate Medical Center, Massachusetts, U.S.. The researchers collected urine samples from both male and female partners of 50 couples on the same day as the semen sample and egg retrieval were performed. The urine samples were then tested for 17 metabolites of phthalates and phthalate alternatives. Data on embryo quality were collected at the cleavage (day 3 after fertilization) and blastocyst (day 5 after fertilization) stages. Wu and colleagues found an inverse association between male urinary concentrations of four phthalate metabolites and embryo quality at the blastocyst stage. This association was not observed at the cleavage stage, and neither for the female partners.

“While the study doesn’t prove phthalates in men lead to poor quality embryos, it adds to mounting evidence that the ubiquitous chemicals may impact pregnancies,” Bienkowski comments. He further notes that the study population was small and specific to couples undergoing IVF, and therefore not representative of the general population. However, the results are in line with a 2014 study finding that “higher phthalates in father’s urine was associated with an increased time for couples to conceive,” Bienkowski informs.

Phthalates are commonly used in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) products, personal care products, food packaging, and other plastics. For more information, see the FPF background article.

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Brian Bienkowski (December 7, 2016). “Are plastic chemicals in dads hurting embryos?” Environmental Health News


Wu, H. et al. (2016). “Parental contributions to early embryo development: influences of urinary phthalate and phthalate alternatives among couples undergoing IVF treatment.Human Reproduction (published online December 7, 2016).

Buck Louis G.M. et al. (2014). “Urinary bisphenol A, phthalates, and couple fecundity: the Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment (LIFE) Study.Fertility and Sterility 101(5):1359-1366.