Ambient air pollution and semen quality

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Ambient air pollution is associated with systemic increases in oxidative stress, to which sperm are particularly sensitive. Although decrements in semen quality represent a key mechanism for impaired fecundability, prior research has not established a clear association between air pollution and semen quality. To address this, we evaluated the association between ambient air pollution and semen quality among men with moderate air pollution exposure.


Of 501 couples in the LIFE study, 467 male partners provided one or more semen samples. Average residential exposure to criteria air pollutants and fine particle constituents in the 72 days before ejaculation was estimated using modified Community Multiscale Air Quality models. Generalized estimating equation models estimated the association between air pollutants and semen quality parameters (volume, count, percent hypo-osmotic swollen, motility, sperm head, morphology and sperm chromatin parameters). Models adjusted for age, body mass index, smoking and season.


Most associations between air pollutants and semen parameters were small. However, associations were observed for an interquartile increase in fine particulates ≤2.5 μm and decreased sperm head size, including −0.22 (95% CI −0.34, −0.11) μm2 for area, −0.06 (95% CI −0.09, −0.03) μm for length and −0.09 (95% CI −0.19, −0.06) μm for perimeter. Fine particulates were also associated with 1.03 (95% CI 0.40, 1.66) greater percent sperm head with acrosome.


Air pollution exposure was not associated with semen quality, except for sperm head parameters. Moderate levels of ambient air pollution may not be a major contributor to semen quality.

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