There are plenty of studies about the effects of bisphenol A on animals, but it’s always challenging to study the effects of a ubiquitous chemical in humans. Findings from a new epidemiologic study helps fill in some of the gaps in understanding BPA’s effects on humans.

The NIOSH-funded study conducted by the Kaiser Foundation Research Institute followed 634 male workers who were exposed to high levels of BPA at Chinese factories, and compared their sexual health to that of male counterparts whose workplaces did not involve the chemical. The Washington Post’s Lindsey Layton describes the results:

The men handling BPA were four times as likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction and seven times as likely to have difficulty with ejaculation, said De-Kun Li, a scientist at the Kaiser Foundation Research Institute …

The workers studied did not have to spend years in the factory to develop problems — sexual dysfunction began in new workers after just months on the job, Li said.

The workers had levels of exposure to BPA that were 50 times what an average U.S. man faces. But the findings raise questions about whether exposure at lesser levels can affect sexual function, Li said. “This was a highly exposed group, and we see the effect,” he said. “Now, we have to worry about lower-level exposure.”

 Given that the workers in the study had exposures so much higher than those of average US men, the American Chemistry Council’s Steven Hentges told Layton the study “has little relevance to average consumers exposed to trace levels of BPA.” Is Hentges assuming that none of us care about the health of the workers who make the products we use? I’d certainly be less inclined to buy a plastic item if I knew that its manufacture put workers at a higher risk of reproductive health problems.

This study isn’t surprising, given all that we’ve learned over the past several years about the health effects of BPA. It’s good information, though, and further demonstrates the need to study the effects of lower-level exposures to BPA.