Background for the Project

15% of all Danish couples suffer from involuntary childlessness - and more than 6% of the approximately 65,000 children born each year in Denmark are conceived through artificial insemination. Of the 65,000 children 3250 are born with congenital malformations, 3500 are born with low birth weight, 1000 comes into the world too early, and 500 die at birth or during the first months of living. The reasons for this, including the risk factors in working environment, remains poorly elucidated

Research on the working environment and its effect on health began for real for more than 25 years ago with some studies of occupational effects on fertility and contraception in Denmark. Generally, the Danish research on reproductive epidemiology has evolved and has become a major strength both in Denmark and internationally. But research on the working environment is hardly a priority in this field in Denmark. In a number of years the Working Environment Research Fund has prioritized other areas, but there are good reasons to reassess the need of research and re-focus on reproductive health and the working environment.

For an old known problem; the ergonomic risk factors in the working environment, research has still not delivered reliable answers. Consequently, both prevention and counselling of thousands of pregnant women rest on a fragile foundation. Similar conditions are in evidence in research on psychosocial impact. Both employers and employees focus on psychosocial conditions in Danish workplaces, but even though it appears that also moderate mental stress can affect the pregnancy negatively, we know very little of the impact from the working environment.

Attention to toxicological research is renewed, because data from different disciplines in the last 10-15 years indicate that even very low exposures to certain foreign substances early in life can have long-term consequences for children's health. So far the focus has primarily been on foreign substances, which people are exposed to through diet, drinking water and air, while exposure at work is only sporadically studied, both in this country and internationally.
Chemical exposure of pregnant women at work has gained new importance - partly in relation to spontaneous abortion and certain specific malformations, and partly in relation to a wide range of disorders, which first appears during childhood or in adulthood (infertility, allergies, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and diabetes).

The question remains whether paternel exposure plays a role in pregnancy and disease in the next generations. The issue is important because fathers are generally more exposed to chemicals in their profession than women. Recent results indicate that toxic substances can have consequences for later generation's morbidity through epigenetic changes of the heredity material of the sperm cell. Denmark has the opportunity to contribute to international front-line research on paternal risk factors in the working environment based on comprehensive registers of morbidity and professions in the Danish population