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  • Jul 23, 2014
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Beijing air pollution

The Chinese capital has for many years suffered from serious air pollution. Primary sources of pollutants include exhaust emission from Beijing's more than five million motor vehicles, coal burning in neighbouring regions, dust storms from the north and local construction dust. A particularly severe smog engulfed the city for weeks in early 2013, elevating public awareness to unprecedented levels and prompting the government to roll out emergency measures. 


Smog crisis in China leads to increased research into effect of pollution on fertility

Beijing's funding for research into how chronic pollution is affecting childbearing triples in last five years, with the situation 'particularly grim'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 December, 2013, 9:36am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 December, 2013, 10:47am

As China's environmental woes grow, typified by recent toxic smog, Beijing has been increasing funding for research into how pollution affects fertility.

The number of studies funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the leading research institute, has tripled in the last five years.

It has supported 68 such research projects this year, compared to just 23 in 2008.

Dr Liu Liangpo, a researcher with the Institute of Urban Environment at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said this showed the government's "deep concern" about the growing crisis.

He said infertility was a global issue, but the situation in China was "particularly grim" due to the severe pollution. And he warned: "Polluted water, unsafe food, bad air ... so many things are threatening the reproductive capacity of Chinese people.

"If the situation gets worse, China's birth-control policy would become redundant."

The infertility rate among all Chinese of childbearing age rose to 12.5 per cent in 2010 from just 3 per cent two decades earlier, Xinhua reported recently.

More than 40 million people on the mainland have been diagnosed as infertile.

While some experts believe unhealthy lifestyles are to blame for 70 per cent of infertility in women and 50 per cent of infertility in men, others say that environmental conditions may also play a role.

The majority of government research grants are for studies about the impact of worsening pollution on the quality of sperm.

Of studies the science foundation funded this year, 59 concerned sperm and just nine focused on women's eggs.

Last year, it gave 60 grants for sperm studies and just six for research on eggs and most of those studies were focused on infertility.

Of the 23 such studies it funded five years ago, all but two dealt with sperm.

Liu and his team are studying how various pollutants such as arsenic, plasticisers and melamine affect the health of sperm.

Arsenic, which can be found at high levels in many underground water sources across the North China plain, can damage sperm DNA, leaving men infertile. But its effect on eggs remains unknown. According to a report by the China Population Association last year, the average sperm count in Chinese men had dropped from 100 million per litre about 40 years ago to as low as 20 million last year.

The "liveliness" of the sperm had dropped significantly as well, reducing their ability to find and enter an egg.

Most of the patients with infertility were relatively young, aged between 25 and 30.

The government hopes Liu's research can help determine the safe levels of waste from factories and other sources of pollution.

"Sperm and eggs respond differently to environmental pollution. Sperm is generally much more vulnerable due to its molecular structure," Liu said.

"The infertility problem in China is getting serious and most of the problems are coming from males. That's why the government has funded more research on sperm than on eggs."

Dr Wang Qiang, a researcher with Nanjing Medical University, received funding to study women's eggs this year.

He said clinical surveys had found eggs were also vulnerable to the effects of a worsening environment, and some of the issues could present problems for newborns later on.

The rapid increase in the incidence of diabetes on the mainland, for instance, had increased the chance of a genetic defect in eggs that would lead to obesity.

"An increasing amount of clinical evidence suggests that eggs contribute equally, if not more, to the infertility problems in China," Wang said.

"Environmental pollutants such as BPA [Bisphenol A, a carbon-based synthetic compound commonly used to make plastic products clear and tough] can do serious damage to eggs.

"It is scientifically erroneous to allege that eggs are less vulnerable to pollution than sperm."

Wang added: "If the sperm has a defect, there are many methods to cure it.

"But if the eggs have a problem, in most cases there is no cure. Our knowledge about treatment for eggs is very limited."

Video: Eastern areas of China cloaked in smog


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China does not need to worry about infertility. They should be concerned about birth defects from the combined land/air/water pollution. I for sure saw a group of young people who all seemed to be mildly retarded when I visited a company in Baoding. The place was surrounded in a perpetual blanket of smog so that all the vegetables and air and water they consumed must have been full of pollutants and heavy metals. That will cause retardation as children grow up in such an environment.
Same case as our city. Air pollution has long been a problem to us. But have we ever carried out any measures to tackle this problem?
The problem might solve itself in the old Darwinian way that works so well. If you can't breed, there will be less polluters:)
This is crazy!
After spend so much money, finally they will say: Well, take it easy, reserch shows that the pollution has no affect on fertility.
michael stening
I wrote a comment in October about the bad air pollution in Sanya, Hainan. The last week has been even worse. You can taste it in the air. The official response has been that it is coming from the mainland. But there has been no wind on the edge of a stationary high pressure system. Sanya is surrounded by mountains and sea similar to Los Angeles. The three culprits in Sanya are the exploding car population, out of control property development with no dust prevention and nearby rural burn offs. Sanya was the maybe the last clean air haven in Eastern China it has now joined the notorious club.
@ "the exploding car population". Yes. this is precisely what it is all about.
Hong Kong has the same problem and yet politicians and Government officials like to blame it on a few thousand old diesel buses and goods vehicles and also polluted air from the Mainland. These are not the main problem. The real cause is half a million cars and vans uncontrolled on down-town streets causing severe traffic congestion and/or gridlock. The exhausts gases from all these vehicles spawn the toxic smog.
John Adams
During the 1970's coal and power crises in the UK the birth rate went up dramatically : there was little else to do except go to bed !
Perhaps the same will happen in China and this will mitigate against falling fertility.
Watch out for a baby boom in Summer next year.
Or - if these smogs persist (which they surely will) - a huge peak in births for several years so that 30 years when they hit the job market from now we will call them the "smog babies"
Why not put more funding into cutting down pollutants instead?
You don't need much scientific research to show that such pollution is detrimental for the human body.
lol,....research to see it's effects on people. ummmmmmm--- how about researching a way to stop it in the first place ??




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