Contrasting associations of blood and semen lead concentrations with semen quality among lead smelter workers

Bruce H. Alexander, Harvey Checkoway, Elaine M. Faustman, Chris Van Netten, Charles H. Muller, Timothy G. Ewers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


While blood lead concentration has been inversely associated with indicators of reproductive health in occupationally exposed male workers, the utility of lead concentration in semen as an indicator of lead exposure to the male reproductive system has not been fully explored. Blood and semen lead concentrations from 81 lead smelter workers were examined in relation to semen quality and endocrine function parameters. Mean blood and semen lead concentrations were 22.8 μg/dl (range 5-58) and 1.9 μg/dl (range 0.1- 17.6), respectively. Total sperm count and concentration decreased with increasing blood lead concentration; p for trend was 0.003 and 0.009, respectively. Semen lead concentration was inversely related to total sperm count (p = 0.05), ejaculate volume (p = 0.001), and serum testosterone (p = 0.004), but not to sperm concentration. The association between semen lead concentration and total sperm count was eliminated when volume was included in the model. Blood lead concentration was more consistently associated with indicators of sperm production than was semen lead. In contrast, semen lead concentration was negatively associated with circulating testosterone concentrations. Our findings indicate that measurement of semen lead may not be a valuable adjunct to conventional blood lead monitoring for investigations of male reproductive system toxicity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)464-469
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Industrial Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1998


  • Biomarkers
  • Blood
  • Epidemiology
  • Lead
  • Reproductive health
  • Semen
  • Smelter
  • Sperm


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