• Dr Peter Chew

Radiation and fertility

I work near radars. Does the exposure affect fertility? Does it increase the chances of getting a male foetus?

To understand how radio-frequency radiation emitted by the radar affects a man's fertility, it is important to know how sperm is produced .

Sperm is produced in small coiled tubes in the testicles . These tubes packed like coiled spaghetti and number more than 750, may reach up to 50 cm in length when dissected out . Sperm takes about 72 days to grow and they are stored in another part of the testicle called epididymis. They remain there for about 15 to 25 days, mature and develop the ability to swim. If the sperm are not ejaculated, they eventually die and are absorbed by the body.

In theory, radar irradiation can affect fertility in the following ways:

· It can stop or slow the production of sperm.

· It may change the shape of sperm . These sperm may have trouble swimming or lack the ability to fertilize the egg.

· It can cause changes in the DNA of the sperm. Sperm with damaged DNA may not be able to fertilize an egg; even if it does fertilize the egg, the development of thefoetus may be affected resulting in a miscarriage or foetal abnormalities.

Large research studies of the effects of radar irradiation on the sperm and fertility are very few . Some scientists found lower sperm counts in personnel exposed to radar, but others did not findsuch effect.

Recent studies by researchers in China concluded that radar radiation inflicted damage to the male reproduction system by causing significant changes to sperm motility and shape, butsuggested that when the exposure stopped, the sperm quality would return to normal.

Another study also found that navy personnel working with radar and/or sonar were more than twice as likely to have reduced fertility.

Whether radar exposure would increase the chances of getting a male offspring, limited studies suggest that there is no such gender bias.

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