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Plastics linked to girls' emotional problems

25th October 2011

Girls who are exposed to high levels of the plasticiser bisphenol A (BPA) while still in the womb seem more likely to have behavioural and emotional problems, according to a recent US study.

pregnancy

The researchers were not able to find any other links between bisphenol A and behaviour.

Study author Joe Braun, a research fellow in environmental health at Harvard School of Public Health, said that he and his colleagues found that the mothers' concentrations of BPA in urine during pregnancy were associated with behavioural problems in daughters at three years of age, but that the same did not seem to be true for boys.

He said that he and his colleagues also did not observe any relationship between the child's BPA concentrations and behavioural problems.

BPA is widely used to make hard, clear plastic.

The molecule is chemically similar to oestrogen, which leads to its ability to affect the body's responses.

Braun said that girls may be more vulnerable to the effects of gestational BPA, and that there may be a unique window of brain development in which the organ was sensitive to BPA.

For the study, the researchers took urine samples of 244 mothers and children at various stages of pregnancy and childhood.

All of the mothers were tested for BPA levels while they were pregnant, shortly after giving birth, and all of the children were tested at ages 1, 2, and 3.

They found that 85% of the mothers had some level of urinary BPA.

Only a small minority of children, just 4%, did not have BPA in their urine.

There seemed to be a correlation between children's levels of urinary BPA and their levels of anxiety, depression, and hyperactivity, as measured at age three.

The same girls also seemed to be less able to inhibit themselves and to control their emotions.

In many countries, governments are attempting to phase BPA out of production.

However, the chemical is widely used elsewhere, in electronics, food and drink containers, and cars.

In restaurants, supermarkets, and cafes, the chemical is used in the paper that allows them to print receipts without using ink.

Eating canned foods also exposes people to a relatively large dose of BPA.

Some studies have shown that BPA can be linked to diabetes, cancer, and heart problems.

Hugh Taylor, chief of the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Yale University School of Medicine, said he believed the recent study was important.

He said he believed that the study proved that the effects of BPA on behaviour were long-lasting, and implied that those effects would be there for the life of the exposed individual.

Chemical industry representatives from the American Chemistry Council said the study had significant shortcomings in its design, and that it might not be relevant to public health.

Taylor said that BPA was a hormone-like chemical that interfered with oestrogen action.

He said that the fact that the effects were more pronounced in girls was not surprising, since oestrogens played an important role in brain development in both boys and girls.



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