Air pollution and traffic fumes tied to infertility risk

Women who live close to major highways where the air is polluted by traffic exhaust fumes may be slightly more likely to have fertility problems than women who live further away where the air is cleaner, a U.S. study suggests.

Researchers followed more than 36,000 women from 1993 until 2003 and analyzed air pollution and traffic exhaust near their homes to see if what they breathed might be connected to their ability to conceive.

Over the study period, there were about 2,500 reported cases of infertility. Women who lived close to a major roadway – within 199 meters, or about a tenth of a mile – were 11 percent more likely to experience this problem than women who lived farther from a highway, the study found.

“The risks are slight,” said study leader Dr. Shruthi Mahalingaiah, a researcher at Boston University School of Medicine, in an email.

But even the slight increased risk can present a big global public health problem, said Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, a researcher at the Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology and the Barcelona Institute for Global Health.

“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 air pollution,” Nieuwenhuijsen added by email.

To look at the link between infertility and air pollution, Mahalingaiah and colleagues examined data on what’s known as particulate matter – a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets that can include dust, dirt, soot and smoke – near women’s homes and also assessed how close their residences were to major roads.