Can environmental or occupational hazards alter the sex ratio at birth? A systematic review

Emerg Health Threats J. 2011 Apr 20;4:7109. doi: 10.3402/ehtj.v4i0.7109.


More than 100 studies have examined whether environmental or occupational exposures of parents affect the sex ratio of their offspring at birth. For this review, we searched Medline and Web of Science using the terms 'sex ratio at birth' and 'sex ratio and exposure' for all dates, and reviewed bibliographies of relevant studies to find additional articles. This review focuses on exposures that have been the subject of at least four studies including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, pesticides, lead and other metals, radiation, boron, and g-forces. For paternal exposures, only dioxins and PCBs were consistently associated with sex ratios higher or lower than the expected 1.06. Dioxins were associated with a decreased proportion of male births, whereas PCBs were associated with an increased proportion of male births. There was limited evidence for a decrease in the proportion of male births after paternal exposure to DBCP, lead, methylmercury, non-ionizing radiation, ionizing radiation treatment for childhood cancer, boron, or g-forces. Few studies have found higher or lower sex ratios associated with maternal exposures. Studies in humans and animals have found a reduction in the number of male births associated with lower male fertility, but the mechanism by which environmental hazards might change the sex ratio has not yet been established.

Keywords: PCBs; boron; dioxins; environmental; g-forces; metals; occupational; pesticides; radiation; sex ratio.