Childhood asthma rates have increased in the past 30 years, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they are expected to continue rising. Experts have pointed to everything from tobacco smoke to airborne pollutants as a contributing factor, but a recent study has pointed to a lesser known culprit that is no less deserving of blame: bisphenol A, a chemical commonly used in canned goods and plastics.

To test their theory on the link between bisphenol A (BPA) and childhood respiratory problems, Dr. Adam J. Spanier and his team enlisted the help of 398 mother-infant pairs. Spanier explained to Medical Daily in an email that the mothers had been exposed to BPAs while pregnant either through eating canned food with BPA in the lining, exposure to certain plastics, or even some cash register receipts. The mothers’ and infants’ urine samples were taken to find evidence of BPA exposure, and the children’s lung strength was measured to see if this exposure had any effect on their respiratory health.

According to the press release, results showed that the chemical was inconsistently associated with diminished lung function and the development of persistent wheezing in children. “The term inconsistent was very specifically related to the outcomes,” Spanier explained. “We looked at lung function (FEV1) and wheeze and wheeze patterns. Prenatal BPA was associated with increased odds of wheeze and persistent wheeze.  It was associated with decreases in FEV1 at age 4 but not 5. Because it was not associated at 5, we used the term 'inconsistent.'  The relationship for FEV1 was not consistent across the ages, but the relationship with wheeze was consistent."

This is not the first health problem believed to be connected. This chemical has been linked to countless health problems, including: migraines, impaired prenatal brain development, stunted human egg maturation, prostate cancerbreast cancer, and higher risk of miscarriages. These are just a handful of the suspected consequences of BPAs, but the Food and Drug Administration still refuses to ban the chemical because, quite frankly, life would be pretty hard without it.

Time reported that the chemical has been used since the 1940s and is in nearly everything that’s plastic in the modern word. Without anything to replace the sudden disappearance of this widely-used chemical, the FDA issued this statement regarding its banning: “While evidence from some studies have raised questions as to whether BPA may be associated with a variety of health effects, there remain serious questions about these studies, particularly as they relate to humans.” 

Spanier and his team plan on conducting future studies to better understand the link between BPAs and respiratory health. For the meantime, he would advise all pregnant women and women who may become pregnant to do their best and minimize BPA exposure.

“Unfortunately, as consumers our abilities to control our exposures to these chemicals are limited — until our chemical management framework in the US is changed. For now, I advise minimizing canned foods. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables may be better. Also minimize the use of plastic products for food storage (glass is safer),” Spanier said.