With recent reports of schools closing due to smog, an 8-year-old diagnosed with lung cancer and an ever-darkening sky throughout its most polluted areas, present-day China is paying for prioritizing economics over the environment. But an even more troubling side effect threatens China's future, as doctors have observed lowered sperm counts, possibly brought on by pollution.

The Telegraph reported from a sperm bank in Shanghai, speaking with the bank's director, Dr. Li Zheng, who says conditions have become untenable. Just one-third of the sperm bank's supply meets the World Health Organization's standards, a particularly troubling fact when coupled with the statistic that roughly 12.5 percent of China's childbearing population is now infertile.

“If we don’t protect the environment now, mankind will face a worsening infertility predicament,” Dr Li said.

The medical community has suspected for years that high air and water pollution may correlate to decreased fertility in men. The exact effects, however, as well as the extent of damage to female fertility, remain unclear.

A frenzy over declining sperm counts broke out this week after the China Business Review published "Smog Can Impact Humans’ Reproductive Ability and Immune System." The article referred to a report released by the China Meteorological Administration and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, which outlined growing climate change and measures for reducing China's unsustainable carbon footprint. The paper made only a passing reference to fertility, but enough to raise alarm.

Even if the report's findings were exaggerated for the sake of a headline, fertility is just one of myriad health concerns posed by poor air and water quality -- concerns that include lung cancer, immunodeficiency, cardiovascular disease and increased mortality.

In recent years, China has seen its pollution index grow exponentially. Thus far, setting limits to reduce coal use and the number of vehicles on the road has not worked. The Chinese government has even resorted to offering cash payouts to municipalities to reduce local pollution levels, but to little avail.

The New York Times points out that economic growth does not have to come at the cost of the environment. But as health concerns develop in time, a change in policy hinges on where a country's priorities lie and to what extent it lets its citizens bear the burden of governmental decisions.

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  • Traffic moves along a street as pedestrians walk on an overpass shrouded in haze in Beijing, China, on Friday, March 15, 2013. China's new premier promised to crack down on corruption and clean up pollution, acknowledging the need to tackle two issues that have stoked public anger toward the country's leaders.

  • Traffic moves along a street as pedestrians walk on an overpass shrouded in haze in Beijing, China, on Friday, March 15, 2013. China's new premier promised to crack down on corruption and clean up pollution, acknowledging the need to tackle two issues that have stoked public anger toward the country's leaders.

  • Haze surrounds the International Commerce Centre (ICC) in the West Kowloon district of Hong Kong, China, on Monday, April 15, 2013. Hong Kong's air pollution index reached the "severe" level for the third time this year, triggering a government warning, as the lack of air flow trapped pollutants in the city.

  • Diesel fumes come out of a tug boat chimney as skyscrapers stand in the Wanchai district of Hong Kong, China, on Monday, April 15, 2013. Hong Kong's air pollution index reached the "severe" level for the third time this year, triggering a government warning, as the lack of air flow trapped pollutants in the city.

  • A man wears a mask as he walks down a street in Beijing, China, on Friday, March 15, 2013. China's new premier promised to crack down on corruption and clean up pollution, acknowledging the need to tackle two issues that have stoked public anger toward the country's leaders.

  • Traffic moves along a street shrouded in haze in Beijing, China, on Friday, March 15, 2013. China's new premier promised to crack down on corruption and clean up pollution, acknowledging the need to tackle two issues that have stoked public anger toward the country's leaders.

  • A woman wears a mask as she walks on a street in Beijing, China, on Friday, March 15, 2013. China's new premier promised to crack down on corruption and clean up pollution, acknowledging the need to tackle two issues that have stoked public anger toward the country's leaders.

  • Birds fly past Great Hall of the People on a polluted day during a plenary session of the National People's Congress in Beijing Friday, March 8, 2013. The outgoing head of China's legislature has praised the body for upholding the ruling Communist Party's leading role and for rejecting Western models of multiparty democracy. (Andy Wong / AP)

  • A woman holds her daughter, wearing a mask, while the family visit Tiananmen Square on a hazy day in Beijing, China, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Pollution worsened in China’s capital and surrounding regions on Thursday, as the country’s new leaders geared up for a major congress where experts expect pollution to be on the agenda. (Alexander F. Yuan / AP)

  • A Chinese paramilitary policeman adjusts his hat against the Great Hall of the People, on a polluted day, before a plenary session of the National People's Congress in Beijing Friday, March 8, 2013. The outgoing head of China's legislature has praised the body for upholding the ruling Communist Party's leading role and for rejecting Western models of multiparty democracy. (Andy Wong / AP)

  • This picture taken on January 29, 2013 shows a general view of buildings in the heavy smog in Jilin, northeast China's Jilin province. Beijing urged residents to stay indoors on January 30 as emergency measures were rolled out aimed at countering a heavy cloud of smog blanketing the Chinese capital and swathes of the country. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Chinese tourists look at the view from the historic Jingshan Park as smog continues to shroud Beijing on January 31, 2013. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Residents cross an overhead bridge during a hazy day in Beijing, China, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

  • Residents walk past a parking lot packed with vehicles in Beijing, China, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

  • Two Chinese policemen guard in front of two LED screens on the Tiananmen Square during severe pollution on January 31, 2013 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

  • A general view shows the Guotai Chambers building from the historic Jingshan Park as smog continues to shroud Beijing on January 31, 2013. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A Chinese tourist takes photos from the historic Jingshan Park as smog continues to shroud Beijing on January 31, 2013. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Chinese tourists looks at the view from the historic Jingshan Park as smog continues to shroud Beijing on January 31, 2013. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Tourists visit the Tiananmen Square during severe pollution on January 31, 2013 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

  • A little tourist wearing a panda mask walk on the Tiananmen Square during severe pollution on January 31, 2013 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

  • A little tourist wearing the PM2.5 mask walk on the Tiananmen Square during severe pollution on January 31, 2013 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

  • The little tourists play on the ground with frozen ice at the Tiananmen Square during severe pollution on January 31, 2013 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)