UI study will examine effects of chemicals on child development

URBANA — Hundreds of expectant local mothers will be recruited this fall to help study the effects on child development from common chemicals found in plastics, sunscreens and antibacterial products.

The Illinois Kids Development Study — called the I-KIDS project, a federally funded University of Illinois research project — was launched in 2010.

Now the study is being expanded for another five years with an $8 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The new money will allow for broadening the research and recruiting 600 more expectant mothers through doctors' offices at Carle Physician Group and Christie Clinic, with the hope of ending up with 500 more mother-infant pairs, said research director Susan Schantz, a professor of environmental toxicology in the College of Veterinary Medicine's comparative biosciences department.

Moms, this is going to take some time.

Researchers will want to stay in touch with you and your child for follow-up for about five years, Schantz said.

Time commitment hasn't been a problem with the first part of the research, she said. The women involved so far have been "just wonderful."

"Most of them have stuck with us," she added.

The initial project enrolled 157 mother-infant pairs and involved a study of the effects of two commonly used chemicals in plastics, BPA (bisphenol A) and phthalates.

The next five years will continue work with those two chemicals and add triclosan, which is used in antibacterial products and parabens commonly found in cosmetics, sunscreens and shampoos, Schantz said.

BPA is used in clear plastics, dental fillings, electronics, food and drink containers, and lining of metal food cans.

Many more BPA-free products are available these days than in years past, Schantz said, "but one of the main ways people are exposed is in the lining of food cans. They haven't discovered a good alternative for that yet."

Phthalates, used to make plastics more flexible and durable, are also found in cosmetics, building materials, food wrappers, textiles, toys and in the coating of some time-release mediations.

They're still in general use, Schantz said, and haven't been the focus of as much attention as BPA.

Little is known how either chemical affects human development, but both function as endocrine disruptors, she said.

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the hormone system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune effects in both people and wildlife, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Tests done on 69 women in the first phase of the study showed phthalates turned up in 100 percent of the women and BPA turned up in 95 percent of the women, Schantz said.

Researchers also learned there was a wide range of products used by the women, and they hope to dig deeper into product use to learn more about higher and lower chemical exposures, she said.

Because the next phase of research involves a larger group of women, Schantz said, it's important to take advantage of that and broaden the scope of chemicals being studied. Little is known about effects of triclosan and paraban on people, though both are in many commonly used products, she said.

The next phase of the research will also address how endocrine disruptors interact with diets high in saturated fat — and how that may affect two important development periods in a child's life: the prenatal time and adolescence.

Maternal weight information will also be included in this new research. Some studies have suggested BPA contributes to obesity, Schantz said.

The I-KIDS project is being done as part of the Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Center program, which encompasses three other studies, including one involving adolescents being done at Harvard Medical School. Two other studies being done with rodents and designed to complement the human studies, are being led by Jodi Flaws, a UI comparative biosciences professor, and UI psychology Professor Janice Juraska.

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