Air Pollution Can Harm Human Reproduction

Photo via flickr

As if more evidence was needed to combat air pollution caused from burning fossil fuels, two recently released reports articulate a human toll that may be higher than previously imagined. The studies, both out of Brazil, measure how air pollution lowers fertility in men and can complicate pregnancies in women--problems likely to be compounded by the rapid urbanization taking place in the developing world where access to healthcare is much more limited. With reproductive rights being such a hot-button topic internationally, it's a wonder why more attention isn't paid to combating pollution on this basis or why those responsible for perpetuating fossil-fuels aren't held culpable for endangering them.Male Infertility Caused by Air Pollution
The first study, conducted by urologist Jorge Hallak, coordinator of the Reproductive Toxicology and Andrology, Hospital das Clinicas, examined 748 male workers who inhaled the air of major thoroughfares, according to a report from O Estado.

The results of the study found that those who breathe too much pollution have a higher concentration of free radicals in blood, which causes a lower sperm quality even in the infertile men.

Of the 748 men involved in the study, 500 showed some change in fertility.

"There is a lot of heavy metals in national gasoline, which directly affects the body," says Dr. Hallack, but to avoid changes to fertility, one solution could be quite simple. "The use of masks with filters already avoid much of the problem."

According to the report, 15% of the world's male population is infertile, a rate greater than that of female infertility. In addition to air pollution, other contributing factors include stress, smoking, obesity, inactivity and anabolic steroids.

Problems in Pregnancy
Researchers from the Faculdade de Medicina compared hospital birth records to air quality measures in a particularly polluted district in Rio de Janeiro between January 2003 to December 2006. The study looked at 13,660 births, and calculated an estimate of pollution exposure on the part of the mothers.

The results found in 9.1 percent of children born were below the ideal birth-weight and 7.4 percent were born prematurely. Researchers concluded from this data that air pollution contributes to adverse effects in pregnancy.

Exposure to high levels of ozone (O3) and airborne particulate matter (PM10) during the second and third trimester were found to contribute to babies a with low birth rate. When it comes to the premature birthrate, the substance deemed to contribute most to the increase in cases was sulfur dioxide (SO2), exposure to can affect the pregnancy during all three semesters, according to the AgĂȘncia USP.

The study's author, Marcelo Moreno dos Reis:

It is clear that other factors related to socioeconomic status, and level of education and access to health services influence the results. Even so, air pollution contributes significantly to premature birth and low birth weight, need to be controlled, mainly because it is caused by man.

As if the research into fossil-fuel's contributions to global climate change were not enough, those unconvinced or unmoved by the threats of pollution on the environment should be particularly alarmed by the findings of these two studies. The threats posed by pollution, indeed, extend beyond fragile ecosystems or endangered species into an area held by some to be superior to all others: the basics of human reproductive rights. Are there any who dare not rise to its defense?

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Tags: Air Pollution | Air Quality | Brazil | Developing Nations