FRIDAY, Feb. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Premature babies who spend
their first few days of life in the neonatal intensive care unit
may be exposed to a possibly harmful chemical widely used in the
manufacture of hard plastics, new research says.
The chemical, bisphenol A (BPA), is used to make many of the
ventilators, intravenous lines, catheters and other devices tiny
babies need to stay alive in those first critical days.
BPA is believed to be an endocrine disruptor, which means it may
interfere with the hormone system in humans. Some research has
linked BPA with reproductive and developmental problems, including
attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Last July, the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration banned BPA from baby bottles and sippy
The lead author of the new study, published online Feb. 18 and
in the March print issue of
Pediatrics, stressed that her paper did not come to any
conclusions regarding health effects of BPA.
"This was an exposure assessment study," said Susan Duty, an associate professor of nursing at Simmons School of Nursing and Health Sciences in Boston. "We did not set out to determine any health outcome so I cannot speak to health effects from these particular exposures."
Most human exposure to BPA comes through diet: BPA can leach
into foods and beverages from the containers in which it is
In this study, though, that turned out not to be the case. BPA
levels in urine samples taken before and after feeding (either
breast-feeding or formula feeding) were the same in the 55 infants
who participated in this study. All were premature newborns staying
in a hospital neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
But babies who needed four or more medical devices had 1.6 times
higher BPA levels in their urine when compared to those who were
exposed to three or fewer devices.
Respiratory devices were linked with higher BPA exposure than
And, although in all cases urine concentrations of BPA were
lower than those cited as potentially harmful by the U.S.
Environmental and Protection Agency, they were still 16 to 32 times
higher than those seen in children from the general population,
Also, she added, "there is controversy about the effect of
low-dose BPA exposures because some studies of exposure during
vulnerable time periods of child development report effects on
behavior and executive function in children and shortened
[anal-genital] distance in male offspring."
Duty pointed out that the particular NICU she studied had made
"a conscious voluntary decision to choose products without BPA
whenever possible and still we found these associations with
It's unclear if there are alternative ways to make the devices
needed to keep tiny, vulnerable babies alive.
Sharon Wilkerson, dean of the Texas A&M Health Science
Center College of Nursing, cited one study that had found
differences in exposure levels between hospitals, "suggesting that
some products may be better than others."
On the other hand, BPA strengthens plastic and plays a cementing
"We don't want a catheter in the vein to come apart because that would be worse than the BPA," Wilkerson said. "There's a fine line of making sure that as we try and get people to use less BPA in the production of products, we don't jeopardize the outcome from that."
A group representing the chemical industry said the study is not
cause for alarm.
"This study found that exposures to BPA from the use of life-saving medical equipment on premature infants in the NICU were low and well within safe limits established by regulators," said Steven Hentges, of the Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group at the American Chemistry Council.
In a council news release, Hentges added that "the BPA exposures
for all of the infants in this study are short-term, limited to the
time when life-saving medical treatment is necessary, and well
below government-set safe intake limits for BPA, which are
A medical expert not involved with the study said more
information is needed.
"Clearly, this study found more exposure but the question is what does that mean," said Dr. David Mendez, a neonatologist with Miami Children's Hospital in Florida. "We just don't know enough right now.
"If we find that BPA is a real player in the long-term health outcomes of babies, we can come up with safer ways to deliver nutrition, to deliver our oxygen," he added.
For now, study author Duty said, "the first priority must be to
provide the medical care needed to help these infants survive their
U.S. National Institutes of Environmental Health
Scienceshas more on BPA.
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