Unviersity at Albany School of Public Health researchers Dr. Erin Bell and Dr. Kurunthachalam Kannan and colleagues recently found that increasing prenatal exposure to two toxic chemicals, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), may pose risk for child behavioral difficulties; the resulting publication appears in the December Environmental Pollution.
PFOS, PFOA, and bisphenol A (BPA) are three man-made chemicals commonly found in various household and consumer products. PFOS and PFOA take a significant amount of time to break down, meaning that they remain present in older household products and in the environment for years after manufacture. BPA in products for babies is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in an effort to reduce babies’ exposure; however, regulations are not as strong for reducing the prevalence of these chemicals in everyday household products.
Given that pregnant mothers are exposed to these chemicals – and therefore, their children are exposed to these toxins before they are born, researchers are interested in understanding their association with child development. Results from previous studies have been inconclusive. Further, given the challenges in obtaining blood samples from newborns, previous studies have largely relied on maternal samples taken during pregnancy or umbilical cord blood at delivery for their analyses.
With a team of researchers from George Mason University, New York University School of Medicine, and the National Institutes of Health, Drs. Bell and Kannan used a novel approach for measuring PFOS, PFOA and BPA in newborn bloodspots routinely collected after delivery. Led by researcher Dr. Akhgar Ghassabian, the team utilized bloodspots from 788 children enrolled in the Upstate KIDS cohort. The children’s mothers each completed a questionnaire on their child’s behavior when the child was 7 years old. Data on hyperactivity, conduct, peer problems, emotional tendencies, and other behavioral aspects were collected.
Overall, the study identified 111 children with behavioral difficulties. The study observed that higher concentrations of PFOS in the blood from the newborns were associated with behavioral difficulties at age 7, specifically problems in conduct and emotional symptoms. Higher PFOA levels were associated with difficulties in prosocial behavior (such as sharing, volunteering, and helping) but not behavioral difficulties. No association between BPA and these outcomes was observed.
These results suggest that prenatal exposure to PFOS and PFOA may influence child behavioral outcomes; however, these findings will need to be confirmed with further study. In addition, these findings and related analyses have shown that newborn bloodspots are a potential resource for measuring chemicals in large prospective child cohorts, creating exciting opportunities for further public health research.