A chemical used in plastic that is ubiquitous in the food and drink industries has been linked with emotional and behavioural problems in girls when they are exposed to it before birth.
Use of the chemical, bisphenol A (BPA), was banned in baby bottles last March by the European Commission, following a campaign by The Independent, because of concern it could cause breast cancer, fertility problems and other illnesses.
But research led by scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that move amounted to closing the stable door after the horse had bolted. They found the key exposure came earlier, during pregnancy, and mothers with the highest levels of BPA were more likely to have daughters with behavioural problems.
Among 244 mothers assessed with their children, increasing BPA concentrations in the mothers during pregnancy were associated with more hyperactive, aggressive, anxious, and depressed behaviour, and poorer emotional control and inhibition in the girls at the age of three.
BPA is found in many consumer products, including canned food linings, plastic bottles of fizzy drinks, mobile phones, and thermal paper till receipts. Most people living in industrialised nations are exposed to it. In the study, 85 per cent of the mothers and 96 per cent of the children showed evidence of BPA in their urine.
The results confirmed two previous studies showing exposure to BPA in the womb affected child behaviour, but were the first to show exposure before birth was more important than exposure during childhood. The study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the US Environmental Protection Agency.