In Canada, the chemical compound bisphenol-A (BPA) was declared “toxic” in 2010. In France, government officials are backing a total ban on BPA in all food packaging by the year 2014. The United States is taking a much more laissez-faire approach to the chemical – but new evidence is coming out all the time that maybe we should be paying more attention. This week, a study was released that identified a link between prenatal BPA exposure and increased hyperactivity and anxiety in young girls.
The study, which was published Monday in the medical journal Pediatrics, tested urine samples of 244 pregnant women in the Cincinnati area at two critical junctures – once during pregnancy, and again at childbirth. Three years down the line, researchers had the mothers fill out questionnaires scoring their child’s behavioral traits. While all of the pregnant women had traces of BPA present in their samples, those with higher concentrations of BPA correlated strongly to heightened levels of anxiety and hyperactivity in daughters (in contrast, boys were seemingly unaffected by varying BPA levels.)
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According to the report, girls scored six points worse on the questionnaires for every 10 percent increase in their mothers' BPA levels. "These subtle shifts can actually have very dramatic implications at the population level," Joe Braun, lead author of the project and a research fellow at Harvard's School of Public Health, told reporters at Huffington Post. Researchers aren’t quite sure yet what causes this, but the prevailing theory is that BPA exposure interferes with fetal brain development. The fact that bisphenol mimics estrogen could account for its effects on girls but not boys.
Of course, the study is not without its critics. While the study diligently took influential factors like family income and education levels into account, some naysaysers point out other factors like mothers’ eating habits (canned – and therefore “less healthy” – foods as opposed to fresh and unprocessed foods) that were not considered. The American Chemistry Council is highly dismissive of the study, stating that the research "has significant shortcomings ... and the conclusions are of unknown relevance to public health."
Is the research conclusive beyond a shadow of a doubt? Not yet. But should we start thinking about safer and greener ways to start packaging the food we eat? It certainly couldn’t hurt.