A study of the effect of perchloroethylene exposure on semen quality in dry cleaning workers

Am J Ind Med. 1991;20(5):575-91. doi: 10.1002/ajim.4700200502.


The purpose of this investigation was to determine the effects of perchloroethylene (PCE) exposure on human semen quality. We compared the semen quality of 34 dry cleaners with that of 48 laundry workers. We examined the relationships of 17 semen parameters to expired air levels of PCE and to an index of exposure based on job tasks in the last three months. The average sperm concentration was over 80 million for both dry cleaners and laundry workers, but approximately one-quarter of each group was oligospermic. The overall percentage of abnormal forms was similar for the two groups; however, sperm of dry cleaners were significantly more likely to be round (t = -3.29, p = 0.002) and less likely to be narrow (t = 2.35, p = 0.02) than the sperm of laundry workers. These effects were dose-related to expired air levels and to the exposure index after controlling for potential confounders (e.g., heat exposure). The average percent motile sperm for both groups was slightly over 60%; however, sperm of dry cleaners tended to swim with greater amplitude of lateral head displacement (ALH) than those of laundry workers (t = -1.73, p = 0.09), and level of PCE in expired air was a significant predictor of ALH in the multiple regression model (t = 2.00, p = 0.05). In addition, exposure index was a significant negative predictor of the sperm linearity parameter (t = -2.57, p = 0.01). These results suggest that occupational exposures to PCE can have subtle effects on sperm quality. Additional analyses are required to determine whether these effects are associated with changes in fertility.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breath Tests
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Fertility / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Laundering*
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis*
  • Sperm Count / drug effects
  • Sperm Motility / drug effects
  • Spermatozoa / drug effects*
  • Tetrachloroethylene / analysis
  • Tetrachloroethylene / pharmacology*


  • Tetrachloroethylene