BPA levels in minority communities linked to ethnicity, season, chemical exposures.

May 03, 2013

Hoepner, L, R Whatt, A Justa, A Calafat, F Perera and A Rundele. 2013. Urinary concentrations of bisphenol A in an urban minority birth cohort in New York City, prenatal through age 7 years. Environmental Research http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2012.12.003


A new study provides deeper insight into how bisphenol A exposures differ among minority populations in New York City. While exposure was widespread, African American women and children had higher levels than Dominicans. Levels also were linked to marital status, season and another group of environmental pollutants -- phthalates -- highlighting the growing concern of chemical co-exposures. BPA is used in some thermal paper receipts and resins that line food and drink cans.

BPA exposure is widespread and variable in New York City's inner-city minority populations, according to findings from a large ongoing women and child study at Columbia University. Levels of the common chemical varied in the pregnant women and their children based on race, marital status, age and season of the year.

African American women and their children at ages 3, 5 and 7 had higher mean BPA levels when compared to their Dominican neighbors in Northern Manhattan and the Bronx. Levels were highest in the 3-year-olds, and children's concentrations were elevated during the summer months and in children at 5 and 7 years old if their mothers were single. The mothers' levels during pregnancy were lower than the children’s at all ages.

This is the first study to assess BPA levels during pregnancy and early childhood among African American and Dominican mothers and children.

BPA levels were also associated with another common group of environmental chemicals – phthalates. It is only the second study to explore co-exposure to BPA and phthalates – a group of wide-use chemicals found in soft plastics and many personal care products and linked to obesity, neurodevelopmental changes, and reproductive health problems.

A limited number of studies have assessed factors associated with BPA levels during pregnancy or early childhood. Yet, scant information is available on BPA exposure in minority populations. Additionally, not a lot is known about the associations between BPA concentrations and other chemical exposures that might affect childhood development.

Levels measured in this study, however, were similar to those reported in previous studies.

BPA is a component of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. It is commonly used in a number of consumer products, including food can linings, the tops of glass jars, thermal paper receipts, water pipes, cigarette filters and dental sealants.

The general population is widely exposed, mainly from eating contaminated food. BPA also can be breathed in or absorbed through the skin. The chemical has been detected in human blood, urine, breast milk, placenta and amniotic fluid.

BPA is an endocrine disruptor – a compound that mimics or interferes with normal hormone functions. Health effects linked to the chemical include reproductive problems in men and women, metabolic disorders, and breast cancer. Exposure before birth and in infants may alter neurodevelopment and increase the risk of obesity.

In this study, researchers selected 568 mothers and children who were enrolled in a mother and children's study at Columbia University. BPA and phthalates were measured in urine samples collected between 1999 and 2006 from the mothers during pregnancy and between 2001 and 2010 from the children when they were 3, 5 and 7 years of age. Questionnaires were administered at each visit to collect information on personal traits and socioeconomic conditions.

BPA was detected in 94 percent of the mothers and in at least 96 percent of the children. BPA concentrations were lower in mothers than in children and significantly higher among African Americans as compared to Dominicans. Higher BPA levels in urine at age 5 and 7 were associated with having an unmarried mother. In children, BPA levels were highest during the summer months and at age 3. Lastly, BPA concentrations were positively associated with phthalate concentrations during pregnancy and in early childhood.

The results confirm widespread BPA exposure in an inner-city community of mothers and their children. Exposure levels varied with the mother's social conditions and demographics.

Eating different foods or the way BPA is removed from the body may play roles in the higher BPA levels seen during the summer months, the authors suggest.

Further studies will need to evaluate those and other factors that lead to higher exposure in minority populations. Meanwhile, pregnant women and children should minimize their exposures to BPA based on animal studies and limited human research that suggest BPA is associated with adverse health effects.

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