Heavy exposure to BPA, or bisphenol A, on the job was linked to impotence and lower sexual desire and satisfaction, according to the study, which adds to concerns about BPA's effects on most consumers.
The men in the study experienced BPA levels about 50 times higher than those faced by typical American men, said researcher Dr. De-Kun Li. "We don't know" whether more typical doses have similar effects, he said.
People shouldn't be alarmed by the finding, said Li, a reproductive and perinatal epidemiologist at Kaiser Permanente's research division in Oakland, Calif. But he said it would be prudent to limit exposure to BPA while scientists look for any effects from lower doses.
The U.S. government recently announced new funding for research into BPA's effects.
The scientists measured BPA exposure through air sampling, and interviewed the workers about their sexual functioning.
Compared to the other workers, men with high BPA exposure were about four times as likely to report trouble achieving erections, about seven times as likely to say they had difficulty ejaculating, and about four times as likely to report low sex drive or low satisfaction with their sex lives.
The finding fits in with animal studies and should be followed up by research in the general population, she said. Her institute said last month it will spend more money on BPA-related research, bringing the total to $30 million over two years.
For one thing, the reported 50-fold difference in exposure seems to be an underestimate because of how it was calculated, he said. In addition, he said, the workers inhaled BPA or got it on their skin. Consumers get it through diet instead, which lets the body detoxify it, Hentges said.