We all know that air pollution has incredibly damaging effects on developing babies, newborns, infants and toddlers. All children are at risk when toxics like mercury are in their air. Moms and Dads are furious, and working hard to protect their children from these contaminants. But what about before we become parents? Can air pollution prevent us from even having children in the first place?
Pollution and Women’s Infertility
Smoke, gasoline, paint fumes and car exhaust are among the many atmospheric pollutants that pregnant women are advised to avoid as much as possible, due to their negative effects on a developing embryo or fetus. But women who are not yet pregnant can also be affected by air pollution. Toxins in cigarette smoke result in higher rates of infertility in women, whether they are smoking themselves or breathing in second-hand smoke. Cigarette smoke exposure can also increase the time it takes for a woman to conceive. Increased DNA mutations in the eggs were also linked to cigarette smoke. One study demonstrated higher levels of mercury in the blood of women who had unexplained infertility, due to eating mercury contaminated seafood.
Pollution and Men’s Infertility
Men also need to worry about they air they’re breathing in. Heavy metals in car exhaust have been linked to infertility in men, causing an excess of free radicals in the blood and a decrease in sperm quality. Mice who lived near a highway showed mutations in the DNA of their sperm cells, up to 60% more mutations than mice who breathed filtered air. They also had more methylation in their DNA which impacts gene expression. Elevated blood mercury levels in men were correlated with abnormal semen. The good news is that some of these effects can be reversed by avoiding air pollution.
Pollution and In Vitro Fertilization
Air pollution complicates In Vitro Fertilization as well. Elevated levels of nitrogen dioxide, a common vehicle emission, can decrease the likelihood of pregnancy from IVF. Nitrogen dioxide levels as low as 0.01 parts per million around a woman’s home were shown to decrease the success of IVF by 20%. For women who were able to conceive via IVF, increased levels of ozone resulted in a decreased chance of carrying that baby to term.
Planning for Pregnancy?
Check out Air Pollution and Pregnancy, a resource from the EPA, for tips about common pollutants and how to avoid them when pregnant or planning to become pregnant. Make a conscious effort to avoid as many toxins as possible, and be sure to TAKE ACTION to protect our children.
Photo credit: Abbie Walston’s ultrasound at 6 weeks pregnant