The study, carried out at the University of North Carolina by a team of researchers, including Simon Fraser University health sciences professor Bruce Lanphear, is the first to examine the link between prenatal Bisphenol A (BPA) exposure and behavioral problems in children.
Findings of the study, to be published Oct. 6 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, suggest that BPA exposure in women early in pregnancy might adversely affect the development of the baby’s nervous system.
BPA is commonly used in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins found, for example, in bottles, toys, water supply pipes, medical tubing and food container linings.
“Many government agencies and consumers in the U.S., Canada and around the world have expressed concerns about BPA exposure, especially in children,” says Lanphear, a professor of children’s environmental health. “Canada has banned BPA in baby bottles and other baby products, but this study suggests that might not be sufficient to protect children.
“Although this is the first study of its kind, it suggests that we may also need to reduce exposures during pregnancy.”
Researchers found that daughters of women who had higher concentrations of BPA in their urine samples during pregnancy were more likely to score higher in acting out types of behaviors than were children of women with lower BPA levels, especially if higher exposure was seen earlier in pregnancy. Boys’ behavior did not seem to be affected.
UNC researcher and lead author Joe Braun says previous studies in mice have shown that the offspring of mothers with high BPA exposure during pregnancy were more aggressive than offspring not exposed. “We wanted to know if there was a risk in humans for neurodevelopment problems.”
BPA levels were measured in urine samples taken from 249 pregnant women in Cincinnati, Ohio at 16- and 26-weeks of pregnancy, then again at birth. The children were assessed for behavioral problems at the age of two (using the Behavioral Assessment System for Children-2).
BPA concentrations between 13 and 16 weeks of pregnancy were most strongly associated with externalizing problems in all children, but especially among girls.
While there was a measurable increase in aggressive behavior among girls, the study also showed some evidence of increased internalizing scores among BPA exposed boys – a finding researchers say needs further study.
Exposure to BPA early in the pregnancy seems to be the most critical issue, Braun says. “The most damaging exposure might happen before a women even knows she is pregnant.”
The study was funded in part by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Backgrounder: Bruce Lanphear
- Bruce Lanphear is the former director of the Cincinnati Children’s Environmental Health Centre at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. He came to SFU as a visiting professor in 2006 and joined the Faculty of Health Sciences as a professor of children’s environmental health in 2008. He is also a professor of pediatrics at the B.C. Children’s Hospital.
- A leading researcher in his field, Lanphear’s numerous population-based studies confirm that widespread exposures to environmental toxicants such as lead and tobacco have a demonstrably negative effect on children’s intellectual, behavioral and physical development.
- He is currently principal investigator for a U.S. study examining fetal and early childhood exposures to prevalent environmental neurotoxins including lead, pesticides, mercury, Bisphenol A, phthalates, PCB’s and environmental tobacco smoke.
Researchers will also investigate the contribution of residential hazards and injuries to children’s health.
The project received funding to follow the original birth cohort, until the children are five years of age. The follow-up will help researchers to determine the efficacy of lead hazard controls on children’s blood lead levels and their risk for learning and behavioral problems.
- Lanphear’s first SFU course, Children’s Health and the Environment (HSC1473), debuted in the spring of 2009.
Bruce Lanphear, 778.387.3939 (cell); firstname.lastname@example.org
Joe Braun, UNC, 919.951.8519; email@example.com
Marianne Meadahl, PAMR, 778.782.4323
Digital photo available