Quaternary ammonium compounds found in common household disinfectants may negatively affect mouse reproduction. Scientists in two different laboratories made the observation independently, and then collaborated on tests to see whether the disinfectant chemicals might be responsible (Melin et al, Reproductive Toxicology, Dec. 2014).
Animals exposed to these agents took longer to become pregnant and had fewer pups. Mouse maternal mortality was high among the exposed animals.
Could Disinfectants Affect Human Fertility?
The scientists admit that it is too early to extrapolate from mice to human mothers. Nonetheless, these chemicals are used widely, in household cleaners, hand sanitizers, commercial disinfectants, fabric softeners, dryer sheets and as preservatives in cosmetics. As a consequence, most people have been exposed to them at some point.
If the reproductive toxicity found in mice also holds up for humans, the quaternary ammonium compounds might be partially responsible for the drop in human fertility that has been noted over the last few decades. Further studies will be needed to determine if such disinfectants pose a real risk.
This same research team has continued to investigate exactly how the quaternary ammonium compounds found in household bathroom and kitchen disinfectants impair fertility (Melin et al, Reproductive Toxicology, Jan. 2016). They discovered that female mice are not the only ones affected. While females exposed to these compounds spend less time in estrus, exposed male mice have lower sperm counts. Their sperm are also less mobile.
This research does not answer the question of how disinfectants may affect human fertility. It raises concerns that beg to be addressed with more research, however.
The People’s Pharmacy Perspective:
We think that disinfectants should be reserved for situations where they are truly needed, such as health care for people with infections. The researchers observed that some of the individuals doing animal care routinely disinfected their hands before and after handling the mice that had reduced fertility. Although we don’t know whether quaternary ammonium compounds will prove harmful for human fertility–and there will no doubt be significant controversy before the question is settled–it makes sense to us to minimize unnecessary exposure to such chemicals. Soap and water conscientiously applied are quite good at removing germs and should not be harmful.