Research, Urban Planning, Environment and Health

Pregnancy Exposure to Endocrine Disruptors in the Workplace Increases Risk of Low Birth Weight

Overall, 11% of the women in the study held jobs where they could be exposed to endocrine disruptors at work


A study led by ISGlobal researchers and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives has found an association between exposure to endocrine disruptors in the workplace and an increased risk of low birth weight at full term. The study analysed data on 131,279 working women from 13 European birth cohorts. Of these, 11% held jobs classified as possibly or probably exposed to endocrine-disrupting chemicals.  

Exposure to endocrine disruptors, which are chemical compounds that alter hormone regulation, is associated with a wide range of negative health consequences, including breast, prostate and testicular cancers, diabetes, obesity and reduced fertility. Despite evolving policies regulating the use of endocrine disruptors, these substances are still present in certain food and consumer products. “Individuals in the general population are exposed to small concentrations of endocrine disruptors through diet and consumer products, but in some cases workplace exposure can be much higher”, says Martine Vrijheid, the ISGlobal researcher who coordinated the study.

The implications are further explained by Laura Birks, the study’s first author, who is also an ISGlobal researcher. “There are periods of vulnerability during pregnancy when the foetus is particularly sensitive to environmental factors. Earlier studies had established an association between exposure to endocrine disruptors in the general population and decreased foetal growth, but few authors had studied maternal occupational exposure to these chemical compounds.”

The results of this study show that women working in jobs classified as being associated with exposure to one or more groups of endocrine disruptors had a 25% higher risk of giving birth to an underweight baby at full term. It was also observed that the risk of low birth weight at term increased when the women were exposed to more groups of endocrine disruptor groups in their work.

The study found no significant association between premature births and exposure to any of the endocrine disruptor groups studied.

Among the professions studied, hairdressers and agriculture workers were classified as exposed simultaneously to at least four groups of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, including phthalates, a group significantly associated with low birth weight at term.

In their conclusions, the authors make the point that “these findings should be followed up by studying health outcomes throughout childhood and by focusing more specifically on occupations classified as exposed to multiple endocrine-disrupting chemicals”.  


Birks L, Casas M, Garcia AM, Alexander J, Barros H, Bergström A, Bonde JP, Burdorf A, Costet N, Danileviciute A, Eggesbø M, Fernández MF, González-Galarzo MC, Gražulevičienė R, Hanke W, Jaddoe V, Kogevinas M, Kull I, Lertxundi A, Melaki V, Andersen AM, Olea N, Polanska K, Rusconi F, Santa-Marina L, Santos AC, Vrijkotte T, Zugna D, Nieuwenhuijsen M, Cordier S, Vrijheid M. 2016. Occupational exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals and birth weight and length of gestation: a European meta-analysis. Environ Health Perspect  124:1785–1793.