Air pollution may be affecting couples’ ability to conceive and have children.
A new study from Boston University published in the journal Human Reproduction revealed that heavily populated areas with air pollution from traffic fumes may put women at a greater risk for infertility. Researchers discovered that those who live in the city were more likely to experience fertility problems than those who live in the country where air pollution isn’t as significant.
In addition, women who live within 199 meters or a tenth of a mile from a major roadway are 11% more likely to have fertility problems. The team of scientists from Boston University tracked over 36,000 women for a decade between 1993 and 2003.
By analyzing the levels of air pollution and traffic exhaust near their participants’ homes, researchers were able to examine any correlations between air quality and the ability to conceive. Throughout this time, an estimated 2,500 cases of infertility were reported.
Though many may be alarmed, lead author Dr. Shruthi Mahalingaiah said:
“The risks are slight.”
Even so, others advised the public to be wary of the link between air pollution and infertility. Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Sajal Gupta, who was not a part of the study, told Reuters:
“Couples suffering from infertility need to exercise caution especially if they are residing in areas with high ambient particulate matter.
“Relocating to areas with low contamination of particulate matter is an alternative to prevent adverse impact on fertility.”
Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, a researcher at the Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology and the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, views the implications of the findings from a global perspective. He told Reuters:
“For an individual woman, the results may not be that important because the risk of infertility only increases slightly, but for society as a whole it is important because so many women are exposed to pollution.”
Researchers examined data on particulate matter — a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets such as dust, dirt, soot, smoke — near women’s homes during the study. They also took into account the relative distance between the women’s homes and major roads. The results indicated that increased exposure to air pollution was associated with an increased incidence of infertility.
The study tracked primary infertility, when women attempt to conceive for at least a year without success, and secondary infertility, when couples struggle to conceive after having at least one pregnancy.
Women who lived close to major roads were 5% more likely to report primary infertility and 21% more likely to report secondary infertility. While the former number is statistically insignificant, the latter was indicative of a link between infertility and pollution.
Limitations in the study include the researchers’ lack of knowledge of dates when conception efforts began and when infertility was diagnosed. This would make it difficult to track the timing of pollution of exposure and the chances of pregnancy.
Though the study is one of the first of its kind to track women over a lengthy span of time, Mahalingaiah advises that more research is needed before any serious medical recommendations are made.