CHICAGO — Exposure to the chemical bisphenol-A before birth could affect girls’ behavior at age 3, according to the latest study on potential health effects of the compound used in the manufacturing of some plastic drink bottles and food can linings.
Preschool-aged girls whose mothers had relatively high urine levels of BPA during pregnancy scored worse but still within a normal range on behavior measures including anxiety and hyperactivity than other young girls.
The results are not conclusive and experts not involved in the study said factors other than BPA might explain the results. The researchers acknowledge that “considerable debate” remains about whether BPA is harmful, but say their findings should prompt additional research.
The researchers measured BPA in 244 Cincinnati-area mothers’ urine twice during pregnancy and at childbirth. The women evaluated their children at age 3 using standard behavior questionnaires.
Nearly all women had measurable BPA levels, like most Americans. But increasingly high urine levels during pregnancy were linked with increasingly worse behavior in their daughters. Boys’ behavior did not seem to be affected.
The researchers said if BPA can cause behavior changes that could pose academic and social problems for girls already at risk for those difficulties.
“These subtle shifts can actually have very dramatic implications at the population level,” said Joe Braun, the lead author and a research fellow at Harvard’s School of Public Health.
For every 10-fold increase in mothers’ BPA levels, girls scored at least six points worse on the questionnaires.
Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program, said the study contributes important new evidence to “a growing database which suggests that BPA exposure can be associated with effects on human health.”
The Food and Drug Administration has said that low-level BPA exposure appears to be safe. But the agency also says that it has some concern about potential effects of BPA on the brain and behavior in fetuses, infants and small children. The FDA is continuing to study BPA exposure and supports efforts to minimize use in food containers.