Danish researchers found maternal perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) exposure to be associated with lower adjusted sperm concentration, lower total sperm count, and higher levels of reproductive hormones (Vested et al.). PFOA belongs to the class of perfluorinated alkyl acids (PFAAs). PFAAs are very grease and water resistant compounds that are used in coatings of food packaging, amongst other uses (stain repellents, non-stick frying pans, etc).

Vested and co-workers investigated the relationship between maternal PFAA exposure during pregnancy and various reproductive endpoints, including sperm concentration, sperm count, semen volume, mean testicular volume and 6 reproductive hormones in adult men. Their study of 165 males and their mothers suggests that in utero exposure to PFAAs affects reproductive health outcomes in adult male offspring.

The study was based on spot blood samples taken in week 30 of the pregnancy (between 1988 and 1989) and semen and blood samples, as well as testicular measurements taken from adult sons in 2010-2011. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acids (PFOS), the two most common PFAAs, were measured in the maternal blood samples, but only for PFOA significant associations could be observed. Various possible confounders were included in the multivariate analysis, such as body mass index, smoking status, maternal smoking during pregnancy, socio-economic status at birth, reproductive disease history and others.

This study is important because it links prenatal exposures in utero to chronic health conditions in adults, decades after the exposures occurred.


Vested, A. et al. “Associations of in Utero Exposure to Perfluorinated Alkyl Acids with Human Semen Quality and Reproductive Hormones in Adult Men. Environ Health Perspect (published online January 28, 2013). doi:10.1289/ehp.1205118