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Prenatal Exposure to BPA Linked to Behavioral Impacts

Researchers have just linked prenatal exposure to bisphenol-A – a near-ubiquitous industrial chemical – with subtle, gender-specific alterations in behavior among two year olds. Girls whose mothers had encountered the most BPA early in pregnancy tended to become somewhat more aggressive than normal, boys became more anxious and withdrawn.

This is the first study to link human behavioral impacts with BPA, a common ingredient in hard polycarbonate plastics and the resins used in food-can linings. Emerging data from an unrelated research group points to another especially rich newfound source of BPA to which people unwittingly may be exposed: thermally printed cash-register receipts (see next blog).

At present, there’s no way to know if the apparent behavioral impact of BPA exposures early in development will persist or disappear, says Bruce Lanphear of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia. But this epidemiologist, an author of the new study, says his worry is that if the kids don’t grow out of these behaviors – and indeed, the changes are expressed widely across a population – they could greatly increase the number of teens at risk for delinquency, say, or for one day needing medical treatment of depression or anxiety.

Further prompting concern that the associations are real, his team points out, are rodent studies showing aggression and hyperactivity in pups prenatally exposed to BPA.

Lanphear and his colleagues at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center have been conducting a Health Outcomes and Measures of the Environment – or HOME – Study for several years. A primary focus has been the investigation of neurobehavioral risks posed by lead exposures early in a child’s development. For the study, moms were recruited early in pregnancy and then followed through their babies’ births. The children – now three to five years old – will continue to be followed into school age.

Joe Braun of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Lanphear and their colleagues (from Cincinnati and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) decided to also scout for signs of any BPA impacts within a subset of HOME participants: 249 randomly selected mother-infant pairs. The recruits tended to be middle class and well educated, Braun notes.