BPA-Free? More Scientists find that BPA Substitutes are Worse

After over a decade of studies, countless scientists from around the globe agree that endocrine (hormone) disrupting bisphenol A (BPA), originally developed as a synthetic estrogen and commonly used in a variety of consumer products (see more details here) is a potential threat to human health and well-being.  While there is no complete ban in the U.S., consumer demand caused a number of manufacturers of processed food and drinks to remove BPA from their food and drink containers.  The problem is that they have replaced BPA with chemicals from the same bisphenol family–BPS is the primary chemical of choice in the U.S., and BPF in the EU.  Unfortunately, as study results come in, researchers are now reporting that both BPS and BPF are as bad, and in some cases worse, than the BPA chemical they replaced. Take, for instance, these study findings:

Researchers at Karlstad University, Uppsala University and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York have found that exposure to bisphenol F (BPF) during early pregnancy can be linked to poorer cognitive function in children at seven years of age. BPF has replaced bisphenol A (BPA) in a wide range of products as the EU has banned BPA in products for children. This study is the first to show that prenatal exposure for the substitute chemical BPF is associated with impaired cognitive development in children.


It has long been known that BPA is a hormone-disrupting chemical, affecting e.g., children’s neurological development, contribute to infertility, and increase the risk of hormone-related cancer. Therefore, since 2011 there has been a ban within the EU against using BPA in e.g., baby bottles and children’s toys. In addition, the switch to BPA-free materials has begun in various parts of the food industry (baby food jars, drink bottles and other household utensils) and a switch to BPA-free cash receipts. Taken together, these changes mean that exposure to BPA has decreased. But as BPA has been phased out, a number of other bisphenols have been introduced in consumer products, such as BPF and bisphenol S (BPS).

However, experimental studies in animals and cell models have shown that the replacement chemicals BPF and BPS have similar endocrine disrupting effects as BPA, and can therefore probably also be important for e.g., neurological development. Unfortunately, studies that have examined the effect of the substitute chemicals in humans are very limited and BPF have not been studied. The purpose of the present study was therefore to investigate whether exposure to these three chemicals during early pregnancy could be linked to children’s at school age.

Study overview

The study aimed at examining the individual associations between prenatal BPA, BPS and BPF exposure and cognitive outcomes in children at age 7 years.  Maternal urinary concentrations were measured for three bisphenol chemicals BPA, BPS, and BPF in 803 women in week 10 of the pregnancy in the Swedish SELMA study and the children’s cognitive ability were measured using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children IV WISC test (IQ) at seven years of age. The study controlled for important background variables such as the mothers smoking, education, IQ, etc. and the children’s sex, birth weight, prematurity etc.

Study findings overview

The results showed that prenatal exposure to BPF was associated with cognitive function in children at seven years of age. An increased exposure corresponding to the difference between the 25% lowest exposed and the 25% highest exposed mothers was linked to approximately two units lower IQ in the children. 

All three bisphenols were detected in over 90% of the women, where BPA had the highest geometric mean concentrations (1.55 ng/mL), followed by BPF (0.16 ng/mL) and BPS (0.07 ng/mL). Prenatal BPF exposure was associated with decreased full scale IQ (β = −1.96, 95%CI; −3.12; −0.80), as well as with a decrease in all four sub scales covering verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, working memory and processing speed. This association corresponded to a 1.6-point lower IQ score for an inter-quartile-range (IQR) change in prenatal BPF exposure (IQR = 0.054–0.350 ng/mL). This study is the first to show that prenatal exposure for the substitute chemical BPF is associated with impaired cognitive development in children.

Researchers’ response

“We are not really surprised by these results. Experimental studies have shown that both BPF and BPS can have similar properties to BPA. Results again show that one must be careful before introducing new chemicals.”

-Dr. Carl-Gustaf Bornehag, professor and project manager for the SELMA study, at Karlstad University and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

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“The study raises concerns.  Exposure to BPF increases because the now replaces, for example, BPA in a wide range of common products and materials. I think that more responsibility should lie in proving that chemicals are safe before they are released on the market.”

-Dr. Elin Engdahl, researcher, Uppsala University and co-author of the study


Journal reference:  Carl-Gustaf Bornehag, et al. Prenatal exposure to bisphenols and cognitive function in children at 7 years of age in the Swedish SELMA study, Environment International Journal (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2021.106433 Summary