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Recent studies reveal that prenatal exposure toBPAs and phthalates, harmful chemicals commonly found in plastics, can increase the risk for respiratory conditions, including asthma, and have long-term effects on the immune system.

  • Harmful chemicals found in plastics can have long-term effects on the immune system.
  • BPAs and phthalates can cross the placental barrier, posing long-term risk when pregnant women are exposed.
  • Prenatal BPA and phthalate exposure increased the risk for asthma in male children.

Common plastics used to make water bottles and children’s items contain the harmful chemicals bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates. Exposure to these chemicals can have adverse effects on the immune system, particularly on lung and respiratory function. However, the effects of prenatal BPA and phthalate exposure on long-term asthma outcomes are not yet known.

Plastic-derived chemicals can cross the placental barrier and impact the developing fetus. A longitudinal study published in Respirology measured BPA and phthalate levels in pregnant women, then tested their children at different ages for asthma, lung function, and allergies. The study controlled for the mothers’ household incomes, mothers’ ages at birth, whether or not they smoked during pregnancy, and whether or not they breastfed.

Prenatal BPA Exposure Increases Risk of Persistent Asthma in Male Children

Researchers followed up with children at ages 5, 13, and 22 years. Prenatal BPA exposure increased the risk of persistent asthma, and phthalates increased the risk of adult asthma, but both associations were only in male children. After controlling for potential confounding factors, a 23% higher likelihood of persistent asthma in male individuals was associated with a ten-fold increase in prenatal BPA concentrations. There were no strong associations between BPA and phthalates with any specific allergies.

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Gender Differences in Impact of Plastic Chemicals on Respiratory Health

These findings suggest lasting effects of BPA and phthalate exposure during pregnancy on offspring. Stronger effects in males may be due to the BPA’s effects on estrogens and differences in immunological factors in males and females. This research aligns with earlier studies indicating that the impact of these compounds on respiratory health outcomes is influenced by sex. Future research will continue to unravel these effects and how to protect from harmful chemicals in common plastics.


Foong, R. E., Franklin, P., Sanna, F., Hall, G. L., Sly, P. D., Thorstensen, E. B., Doherty, D. A., Keelan, J. A., & Hart, R. J. (2023). Longitudinal effects of prenatal exposure to plastic-derived chemicals and their metabolites on asthma and lung function from childhood into adulthood. Respirology, 28(3), 236-246. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1111/resp.14386



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