Maternal occupational exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals and urogenital anomalies in the offspring

Hum Reprod. 2021 Dec 27;37(1):142-151. doi: 10.1093/humrep/deab205.


Study question: Is there an association between maternal occupational exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) early in pregnancy and subgroups of congenital anomalies of kidney and urinary tract (CAKUT), and hypospadias?

Summary answer: Exposure to specific EDCs can increase the risk of CAKUT and no association with hypospadias was observed.

What is known already: Previous studies showed an association between maternal occupational exposure to EDCs and hypospadias. However, little is known about the effect of these chemicals on the development of CAKUT, especially subgroups of urinary tract anomalies.

Study design, size, duration: For this case-control study, cases with urogenital anomalies from the European Concerted Action on Congenital Anomalies and Twins Northern Netherlands (Eurocat NNL) registry and non-malformed controls from the Lifelines children cohort (living in the same catchment region as Eurocat NNL) born between 1997 and 2013 were selected. This study included 530 cases with CAKUT, 364 cases with hypospadias, 7 cases with both a urinary tract anomaly and hypospadias and 5602 non-malformed controls. Cases with a genetic or chromosomal anomaly were excluded, and to avoid genetic correlation, we also excluded cases in which a sibling with the same defect was included.

Participants/materials, setting, methods: Information on maternal occupation held early in pregnancy was collected via self-administered questionnaires. Job titles were translated into occupational exposure to EDCs using a job-exposure matrix (JEM). Adjusted odds ratios (aORs) and 95% CIs were estimated to assess the association between maternal occupational exposure to EDCs (and to specific types of EDCs) and CAKUT and hypospadias.

Main results and the role of chance: For CAKUT and hypospadias, 23.1% and 22.9% of the cases were exposed to EDCs, respectively, whereas 19.8% of the controls were exposed. We found an association between maternal occupational exposure to organic solvents/alkylphenolic compounds and CAKUT (aOR 1.41, 95% CI 1.01-1.97) that became stronger when combinations of urinary tract anomalies co-occurred with other defects (aOR 7.51, 95% CI 2.41-23.43). An association was also observed for exposure to phthalates/benzophenones/parabens/siloxanes and CAKUT (aOR 1.56, 95% CI 1.06-2.29), specifically urinary collecting system anomalies (aOR 1.62, 95% CI 1.03-2.54) and combinations of urinary tract anomalies (aOR 2.90, 95% CI 1.09-7.71). We observed no association between EDC exposure and hypospadias.

Limitations, reasons for caution: The different study designs of Eurocat NNL and Lifelines could have introduced differential information bias. Also, exposure misclassification could be an issue: it is possible that the actual exposure differed from the exposure estimated by the JEM. In addition, women could also have been exposed to other exposures not included in the analysis, which could have resulted in residual confounding by co-exposures.

Wider implications of the findings: Women, their healthcare providers, and their employers need to be aware that occupational exposure to specific EDCs early in pregnancy may be associated with CAKUT in their offspring. An occupational hygienist should be consulted in order to take exposure to those specific EDCs into consideration when risk assessments are carried out at the workplace.

Study funding/competing interest(s): N.S. was paid by the Graduate School of Medical Sciences (MD/PhD programme), University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG), Groningen, the Netherlands. Eurocat Northern Netherlands is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports. The Lifelines Biobank initiative has been made possible by subsidy from the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG the Netherlands), University Groningen and the Northern Provinces of the Netherlands. The authors report no conflict of interest.

Trial registration no: N/A.

Keywords: congenital anomalies of kidney and urinary tract; endocrine-disrupting chemicals; exposure; hypospadias; occupation; periconceptional.

Publication types

  • Clinical Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Endocrine Disruptors* / toxicity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypospadias* / chemically induced
  • Hypospadias* / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects
  • Occupational Exposure* / adverse effects
  • Pregnancy


  • Endocrine Disruptors