media release

New study shows effect of prenatal BPA exposure worsens in girls

October 24, 2011

Bruce Lanphear, 778.387.3939 (cell),
Joe Braun, UNC, 919.951.8519,
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035,

Bruce Lanphear
Photos on Flickr

Researchers, including one at Simon Fraser University, say girls exposed to higher bisphenol A (BPA) levels in their mothers’ womb exhibit more anxious, hyperactive and depressive symptoms by age three than girls with lower levels.

This is one finding in the latest stage of a longitudinal study of the impact of prenatal exposure to BPA — a ubiquitous plastic in our environment — on roughly 240 Cincinnati, Ohio newborns as they mature.

More than 90 per cent of Canadians are routinely exposed to BPA. Canada has declared plastics made with the organic compound to be toxic.

BPA is commonly used in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins found in bottles, toys, water supply pipes, medical tubing and food container linings.

Conducted by SFU health sciences professor Bruce Lanphear and researchers at Harvard University and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Centre, the study was launched in 2003 when the children’s mothers were 16 weeks pregnant. The study’s first results in 2009 connected prenatal BPA exposure with more aggressive and hyperactive behaviours in two-year-old girls than in children with lower prenatal BPA exposure.

Impact of Early Life Bisphenol A exposure on Behaviour and Executive Function in Children is the latest chapter in this study, published in the October 24th online issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Other key findings in the latest study are:

  • Boys with prenatal BPA exposure exhibit next to no anxiety, hyperactivity and depressive symptoms and any exhibition of these behaviours didn’t increase by age three.
  • Based on urine samples taken from mothers during pregnancy and at birth, and from their children at birth and annually to age three, the children’s BPA levels were higher but more variable than their mothers.
  • Experimental studies in lab rats found a link between prenatal BPA exposure and increased exhibition of aggression, anxiety and exploration and spatial memory as the animals matured.

“The clinical relevance of these findings is still unclear,” says Lanphear, the 2011 recipient of the Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy for his research-based fight to reduce lead in the environment.

“What is noteworthy is that the behaviour problems persisted in girls with higher prenatal BPA exposure to age three and that comparable behaviours were observed in experimental laboratory studies.

“We’ll know better when they’re tested again at age five and eight, but these early results indicate the effect of prenatal BPA exposure on behaviours are not transient.”

The researchers have yet to nail down why prenatal BPA exposure affects girls more than boys but they think it is linked to the plastic’s impact on hormones such as estrogen.

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