BPA Exposure in Pregnancy Can Affect Lung Health of Children

Ingrid Hein

October 02, 2019

MADRID — Pregnant women who are exposed to high levels of bisphenol A (BPA) are more likely to have children who experience wheezing and have lower lung function as they age, new research shows.

"Four million tons of BPA are produced every year and there is widespread exposure to these compounds," said Alicia Abellan, a PhD student from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health in Spain.

BPA is found in plastic bottles, canned food, children's toys, hard food containers, and much more, and has been associated with adverse health effects, such as breast cancer, infertility, and childhood neurologic disorders.

"There has been no safe level of exposure established," Abellan reported here at the European Respiratory Society 2019 International Congress.

She and her colleagues wanted to examine the effect prenatal exposure to these compounds has on the respiratory health of children.

Early life "is a crucial period of development, especially for those vulnerable to environmental exposures," she explained. "We know these endocrine disrupters can cross the placenta barrier."

Abellan's team tested urine samples from 2685 mothers and their children — who were enrolled in eight European research cohorts from 1999 to 2010 — for detectable levels of BPA.

Two urine samples taken during pregnancy were generally available from each mother: one early, around 12 weeks; and another further along. "They ranged in times collected, and for some women we only had one sample," she said.

Wheezing was determined by questionnaires completed by the mothers, and lung function was measured when children were 6 and ten years of age.

The researchers found detectable levels of BPA in 79% of the urine samples.

Mothers with exposure were more likely to report that their child experienced wheezing in the previous year (odds ratio [OR], 1.10; 95% CI, 0.97 - 1.23) and that their child had a diagnosis of asthma (OR, 1.07; 95% CI, 0.96 - 1.19).

BPA Controversy Continues

Controversy over the level of danger caused by BPA erupted when the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated its BPA summary in June 2018, as reported by Medscape Medical News, to state that "the available information continues to support the safety of BPA for the currently approved uses in food containers and packaging."

Animal studies on the safety of endocrine disruptors are currently underway, and the findings are highly anticipated.

BPAs were banned in France in 2015, but in some countries, there is no regulation at all, Abellan reported.

The four BPA substitutes — bisphenol AF (BPAF), bisphenol B (BPB), bisphenol F (BPF), and bisphenol S (BPS) — assessed by Abellan's team were found in trace amounts in some samples but were not significant enough to measure.

"We thought we would see more," she said, because substitute phenols are now commonly used in manufacturing. "If these compounds were measured in the urine of pregnant women today, we would expect higher levels."

She acknowledged that the study was limited because only one or two urine samples were collected from each mother. "This probably does not represent overall pregnancy exposure; phenols have a short half-life and they are highly variable," she noted.

There was also a wide variance in results from the eight cohorts, which Abellan said she cannot explain.

Evidence Still Unclear

"They had good data, but they didn't hit any statistical significance," said Will Carroll, MD, from Keele University in Newcastle, United Kingdom.

There was a trend toward an effect, but they are just shy of showing it. "The risk to an individual child is low, but is it significant on a population level? Probably," he said.

A 3 mL effect on FEV₁ does not compare to the risk of smoking during pregnancy, he told Medscape Medical News, but more studies are needed.

"The problem is that, going forward, we'll have different types of exposure with BPA and substitutes. This is going to be troublesome because there's a moving target," he added.

Abellan and Carroll have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

European Respiratory Society (ERS) 2019 International Congress: Abstract OA4969. Presented October1, 2019.

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