There is a wide range of chemicals, conditions, and environmental circumstances that can affect female fertility. Many of them can also lead to an increased risk of miscarriage for pregnant women, at various stages of pregnancy, especially during the first trimester.

Things like secondhand smoke, contaminated water, inflammation, excess physical exertion, and chronic stress are well-recognized factors that can contribute to fertility issues and miscarriage risk in women who do not have any other reproductive health issues. Yet there are many other things that can affect fertility and increase the risk of miscarriage that might not be so obvious. Some of them can even lead to permanent infertility.

Indeed, one Army retiree claims what when she was 21 years old she was exposed to a chemical used to strip aircraft paint, during the course of her service. She asserts that it was directly responsible for her becoming infertile.

Service Women’s Action Network Survey

It’s also worth keeping in mind this is just one of the many stories that have compiled by the Service Women’s Action Network. Also known as SWAN it is an advocacy group for current servicewomen as well as female veterans. One of their primary areas of focus deals with military women’s access to effective reproductive health care.

The Service Women’s Action Network conducted a survey of nearly 800 women who are in active-duty, reserve, or retired, as well as veteran women. In it, SWAN found that more than 30% of women who are currently serving or who have served in the armed forces reported some degree of fertility issues, including infertility.

The gravity of this statistic is shocking when you consider that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that only an estimated 12% of civilian women experience fertility issues or problems with maintaining a successful pregnancy.

The SWAN report asserts that This data clearly cries out for more research to pinpoint the high levels of infertility.

The Military’s Response

A spokeswoman for the Department of Defense, Jessica Maxwell explained that the military also collects infertility data. This includes a monthly medical report issued in September of 2013 which stated that over 16,800 servicewomen had been diagnosed with infertility during the course of 13-year surveillance timeframe.

Taken in context it amounts to less than 1% of active-duty women that served during the timeframe. This is in stark contrast with the findings in the SWAN infertility report, which was largely based on self-reported data. It’s also worth noting that the military’s statistics only represent women who were hospitalized during the surveillance period. Their hospitalization records also used a specific code for infertility.

Spokeswoman Maxwell went on to state that military service members who cannot conceive within established and acceptable clinical guidelines are given full access to maternal, fetal medicines as well as access to advanced fertility services.

The military’s report further states that their healthcare system doesn’t provide non-coital reproductive therapies. The only exception is for service members who have lost their natural reproductive abilities as a result of illnesses or active service injuries.

Access To Adequate Treatment

Yet many SWAN respondents claimed that their infertility was indeed related to their service. In fact, retired Army officer who was formerly enlisted stated that her military occupation directly exposed her to a substance known as methyl ethyl ketone. Also known as MEK it is an organic solvent that is used to strip old paint as well as clean parts. Furthermore, the World Health Organization lists MEK as a threat to cause reproductive harm with possible long-term side effects.

Another SWAM respondent asserts that she was directly exposed to harmful toxins when she served as a fuel handler. The CDC lists jet fuel as a substance that can cause significant reproductive harm. Another female respondent also stated that she was exposed to air pollution caused by burning pits. This is an area of ongoing research. Yet some studies do show a link between poor air quality and an increase in infertility issues. This is especially related to nitrogen dioxide which is created when diesel fuel is burned.

Even though science links these various hazards to fertility problem, many female service members say that the military and veteran healthcare systems do not provide them with access to adequate treatment. The report published by the Service Women’s Action Network states that only five military facilities provide access to a full range of treatment. It’s also worth noting that a large number of respondents said they had to pay out-of-pocket. In some of these cases, the cost was as high as $30,000.

Source – businessinsider