China is facing a crisis of infertility and all indicators suggest the problem is linked to the nation’s pollution problem. With more than 40 million Chinese now diagnosed as infertile, surrogacy is an attractive solution but the practice is illegal in China. As a result, wealthy Chinese couples who can afford to are looking overseas for women who will bear their children.

The Chinese government is in the midst of an ongoing investigation into the effects of air pollution on fertility but four factors seem to indicate a clear link between the nation’s skyrocketing infertility rate and its equally skyrocketing rate of pollution:

  1. The infertility rate for couples of childbearing age has risen to 12.5% within the last 20 years, when the national rate of fertility was only 3%.
  2. Sperm counts have dropped by 80% in the last 80 years.
  3. The number of Chinese couples seeking help to find a surrogate has increased tenfold since 2012; this rate is expected to double in the coming two years.
  4. Couples seeking a surrogate often say their doctors told them pollution is the cause of their infertility.

In separate studies, the Chinese Academy of Sciences is exploring links between male infertility and some of the nation’s most common pollutants, including arsenic, melamine, and plastic solvents. Zhang Jun, a lead researcher of the study on male infertility, says, “New chemicals appear in our lives every day and the problem is that we don’t know if these new chemicals will pose risks to our health.”

Wealthy couples often seek surrogates in the United States, where fees to “rent a womb” typically range between $78,000 and $118,000. Most American surrogate mothers, called “gestation carriers” in China, are working-class women from the rural regions of the South and Midwest US.

John Weltman, president of a Boston-based surrogacy matching agency called Circle Surrogacy, says interest is high for American surrogates since the US is “unequivocally the safest country” in which to do surrogacy.

Another attractive factor in favor of American surrogates is that Chinese couples are allowed to choose their child’s gender. Laws of the last several generations limiting family size in China has resulted in a surplus of Chinese men. In China, men outnumber women by 34 million.

Experts on infertility in China believe it’s the woman’s inability to conceive or produce a child in about 70% of all cases. Male infertility is said to account for about 50% of the problem. In either situation, environmental pollutants are thought to play a significant role in this nation where as many as 500,000 people die prematurely each year as a result of exposure to environmental pollutants.

Source: Keating, Fiona. “Wealthy Chinese Rent American Wombs Due to Rise in Infertility Rates (Video).” International Business Times / Society. International Business Times. Feb 1, 2014. Web. Feb 6, 2014.