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How pollution is causing a male fertility crisis

Sperm quality appears to be declining around the world but is a little discussed cause of infertility. Now scientists are narrowing in on what might be behind the problem.

Surrogate and parents linking hands

(Image credit: Edward Berthelot/Getty Images)

"We can sort you out. No problem. We can help you," the doctor told Jennifer Hannington. Then he turned to her husband, Ciaran, and said: "But there's not much we can do for you."

The couple, who live in Yorkshire, England, had been trying for a baby for two years. They knew it could be difficult for them to conceive as Jennifer has polycystic ovarian syndrome, a condition that can affect fertility. What they had not expected was that there were problems on Ciaran's side, too. Tests revealed issues including a low sperm count and low motility (movement) of sperm. Worse, these issues were thought to be harder to treat than Jennifer's – perhaps even impossible.

Hannington still remembers his reaction: "Shock. Grief. I was in complete denial. I thought the doctors had got it wrong." He had always known he wanted to be a dad. "I felt like I'd let my wife down."

Over the years, his mental health deteriorated. He began to spend more time alone, staying in bed and turning to alcohol for comfort. Then the panic attacks set in.

"I hit crisis point," he says. "It was a deep, dark place."

Male inf