A joint study conducted by Cleveland Clinic, Calcutta University and AMRI Medical Centre has revealed that in Kolkata about 40-50 per cent of the infertility cases are due to male infertility alone, which is happening due to inhaling toxic fumes.
The study also points out that specifications essential for fertility like sperm motility, forward progressive sperm motility and sperm volume have all decreased significantly in males here.
It is pertinent to mention here that this teeming metropolis was described the world's third most polluted city in a World Bank report in 2002.
According to Dr Alex Varghese, Chief Embryologist, AMRI, there is a co-relation between urbanisation and growing vehicular pollution and the increasing number of infertility clinics in Asia and the Indian Sub-Continent. That's why it had become imperative to conduct such a study.
Sperm count in males have gone down so drastically globally that for the first time in medical history, the World Health Organisation brought down the standard from 40 million per ml to 20 million per ml.
The recent study in Kolkata selected about 4000 men with standard sperm count but still found all essential fertility requirements down in comparison to 1980s.
Professor Asok Bhattacharya of the Department of Bio-chemistry at Calcutta University, warns that toxic compounds found in automobile emissions can infiltrate into the male reproductive gamut and bind with the DNA causing genetic damage to the embryo through the sperm, leading to defective births.
The oxides of nitrogen and carbon monoxide found in the air have steadily increased in Kolkata from 1970s.
Transport is now the dominant source of CO (Carbon monoxide), NO (Nitrogen Oxide) and lead and other heavy metals in the city through growth in motor vehicle traffic in recent years.
Dwitimaan Mukherjee, a research student says that transport emissions have risen from 1825 tonnes per annum in 1990 to over 25,550 tonnes per annum now. The Respirable Particulate Matter (RPM) in the city of Kolkata is 1.5 times than the national standard.
Couples coming in for infertility treatment admit that they are aware of the problem caused by air pollution but express helplessness. Raj (name changed) say while some civic awareness is required on the issue, the onus to curb environmental pollution rested with the government. Their only hope is the In-Vitro Fertilisation process.
According to Dr. Pronab Das Gupta, Medical Director, AMRI, efforts are made in the IVF labs to control the environmental damage caused to the sperms clinically. The labs use special air filtration machines and air suction equipment to sterilize the body before the samples are taken from patients.
The West Bengal government has not been able to take stringent action to completely to ban the two-stroke auto-rickshaws plying on Kolkata roads.
The auto-rickshaws use highly toxic fuel mixtures and emit fatal fumes routinely across the city. And this despite an environment-related court ban on the offending three-wheelers.
It is hoped that there would be political will to implement such bans.
Infertility is a growing global phenomenon with one in every six couples being infertile.