November 24, 2020

Reproductive Health, Covid-19, Air Pollution and Climate Change: A Call to Action

Respiration is essential to all living organisms on earth. This process allows humans to take in oxygen and to expel carbon dioxide, a product of our metabolism. Thus, clean air is essential to life.  Unfortunately, we live in an era when the air we breathe contains numerous pollutants. The result is that the necessary process of respiration can cause harm to the health of individuals and to offspring by negative impacts on gamete development, fertilization, pregnancy and birth. The Campion Fund has published a series of blogs discussing these harmful effects (1-6).

Years ago, as a nation, the United States recognized this problem of air pollution and passed a law, The Clean Air Act,  to provide ways to mitigate the problem. Minimal standards of tolerable levels for seven pollutants were put in place by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In the law the standards are required to be up-dated on a regular basis, founded on current science (7,8). These pollutants are listed as carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone (ground level), sulfur dioxide and particulate matter 2.5 and particulate matter 10 (7,8). The EPA is charged with the responsibility through appropriate regulation and public education to ensure that we have healthy air to breathe (9).  However, the standards have not been updated since the 1990s. It is apparent to air quality scientists that the current minimal levels of air pollution that are too high,(10-12) thus it would seem that the EPA would change the regulations to reflect this fact. The current standards do not protective health. There is also concern that climate change due to the increase in green-house gases, (mainly carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases as well as increased water vapor) combined with air pollution impacts negatively on human health (13). Wood smoke is another serious polluter of the air we breathe. As wild fires increase across the world, most likely due to climate change, the impact of this type of air pollution on human health is a real concern (14). Furthermore, air pollution increases the risk of Covid-19 (15).

The Covid-19 pandemic has provided environment and climate scientists with an opportunity to study the interactions of air pollution and green-house gases since lockdowns have produced changes in the emission of these pollutants. What is apparent is the interplay of air pollutants, green-house gases and the effect of the lockdowns is complex(15-21). Furthermore, the shifts in emissions and thus air pollution is transient. The lockdowns most likely will not significantly impact the trajectory of climate change. However, the opportunity to study these changes will provide important information that will impact future policy determinations. It is urgent that reproductive scientists utilize the opportunity provided by the Covid-19 pandemic to research the effect of the decline in air pollution and green- house gases on all reproductive processes. So far little on this important problem has been reported. This blog is written to encourage well conducted research on this topic. There are many published reports on pregnancy outcome during Covid-19.  Is it not possible to gather information regarding the ambient air quality, green-house gas levels and pregnancy outcomes to discover correlations among these parameters?  Going forward it will be critical to ask how reproduction, both short term and long term is affected by air quality policies. The opportunity is there, reproductive science needs to exploit this opportunity.  

As a foundation interested in the improvement of reproduction through outstanding science and science education, we continue to be extremely concerned that air pollution and climate change impact healthy reproduction. We encourage increased research in this area. We are alarmed that the published science that is more than adequate to impel policy change regarding climate and air pollution is met with silence by many and denial by others. Most persons in the general public and especially governmental officials are unaware of the fact that air pollution and the rapidly warming earth has serious impact on healthy reproduction. This head-in-sand attitude imperils heathy reproduction of all living things. As a community we need to start to educate others about the negative  impacts of poor air quality and climate on the health of future generations. At the risk of being thought of as pesky, the Campion Fund will continue to highlight this problem and issue a call to action. Please ask how you can work to educate all persons regarding the risks of air pollution and climate change on human health and the health of future generations and to assist in ways in which these serious health outcomes will be mitigated by the action of local and national governments and by the individual responsibility of all persons.

Phyllis Leppert, President, The Campion Fund

Further reading:

 1. https://campionfund.org/blog/item/94-air-pollution-harms-reproductive-health

 2. https://campionfund.org/blog/item/99-air-pollution-harms-reproductive-health

 3. https://campionfund.org/blog/item/101-air-pollution-harms-reproductive-health-meeting-june-1-2019-number-2-in-the-series-of-highlights-from-the-meeting

 4. https://campionfund.org/blog/item/102-air-pollution-harms-reproductive-health-meeting-june-1-2019-number-3-in-the-series

 5. https://campionfund.org/blog/item/103-air-pollution-harms-reproductive-health-number-4-in-a-series-of-a-report-on-a-scientific-meeting-held-june-1-2019

 6. https://campionfund.org/blog/item/104-air-pollution-harms-reproductive-health-number-5-in-a-series

 7. https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-clean-air-act

 8. https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-clean-air-act

 9. https://www.epa.gov/clean-air-act-overview/air-pollution-current-and-future-challenges

 10. https://www.uphe.org/2019/12/16/7-deadly-misconceptions-about-our-air-quality/

 11.Schwartz J, Bind MA, Koutrakis P. Estimating causal effects of local air pollution on daily deaths: effect of low levels. Environ Health Perspect  2017.125:23–29; http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/EHP232

 12. Shi L, Zanobetti A, Kloog I, Coull BA, Koutrakis P, Melly SJ, Schwartz JD.Low-concentration PM2.5 and mortality: estimating acute and chronic effects in a population-based study. Environ Health Perspect 2016. 124:46–52;  http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1409111

13. Cifuentes L, Borja VH, Gouveia N, Thurston G, Davis DL. Assessing the Health Benefits of Urban Air Pollution Reductions Associated with Climate Change Mitigation (2000–2020): Santiago, São Paulo, México City, and New York City. Environ Health Perspect 2001. 109(suppl 3):419–425. http://ehpnet1.niehs.nih.gov/docs/2001/suppl-3/419-425cifuentes/abstract.html

 14. Johnston, F.H., Borchers-Arriagada, N., Morgan, G.G. et al. Unprecedented health costs of smoke-related PM2.5 from the 2019–20 Australian megafires. Nat Sustain (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-020-00610-5

15. Fattorini D, Regoli F. Role of chronic air pollution levels in the Covid-19 outbreak risk in Italy. Environmental Pollution. 2020. 264:114732

16. https://www.sciencenews.org/article/covid-19-coronavirus-greenhouse-gas-emissions-climate-change

17. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200326-covid-19-the-impact-of-coronavirus-on-the-environment

18. https://cen.acs.org/environment/atmospheric-chemistry/COVID-19-lockdowns-had-strange-effects-on-air-pollution-across-the-globe/98/i37

19/ https://atmos.utah.edu/air-quality/covid-19_air_quality.php

20. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/369/6504/702

21. https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/17/14/5167/htm