Presence of Bisphenol A and Parabens in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit: An Exploratory Study of Potential Sources of Exposure

Environ Health Perspect. 2019 Nov;127(11):117004. doi: 10.1289/EHP5564. Epub 2019 Nov 27.


Background: Newborns in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) are in contact with a variety of medical products whose production might include synthetic chemicals with hormonal activity.

Objectives: Our aim was to assess the content of bisphenol A (BPA) and parabens (PBs) and the hormone-like activities of a subset of medical products commonly used in NICUs in prolonged intimate contact with NICU newborns.

Methods: Fifty-two NICU items were analyzed, determining the concentrations of BPA and PBs [methyl- (MeP), ethyl- (EtP), propyl- (PrP), and butylparaben (BuP)] and using the E-Screen and PALM-luciferase assays to measure the in vitro (anti-)estrogenic and (anti-)androgenic activity, respectively, of the extracts. Items found to have elevated BPA/PB content or hormone-like activities were further extracted using leaching methodologies.

Results: BPA was found in three-fifths and PBs in four-fifths of tested NICU items, and 25% and 10% of extracts evidenced estrogenic and anti-androgenic activity, respectively. The highest BPA content was found in the three-way stopcock (>7.000 ng/g), followed by patterned transparent film dressing, gastro-duodenal feeding tubes, sterile gloves, single-lumen umbilical catheters, and intravenous (IV) infusion extension sets (concentrations ranged from 100 to 700 ng/g BPA). A total PB concentration (PBs) >100 ng/g was observed in several items, including light therapy protection glasses, patterned transparent film dressing, winged IV catheters, IV infusion extension sets, and textile tape. The highest estrogenic activity [>450 pM estradiol equivalent (E2eq)] was found in small dummy nipples, three-way stopcocks, and patterned transparent film dressing and the highest anti-androgenic activity [>5 mM procymidone equivalent units per gram (Proceq/g)] in small dummy nipples and three-way stopcocks.

Discussion: According to these findings, neonates might be exposed to multiple sources of BPA and PBs in NICUs via inhalation, dermal, oral, and IV/parenteral routes. There is a need to address the future health implications for these extremely vulnerable patients and to adopt precautionary preventive measures as a matter of urgency.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Benzhydryl Compounds / analysis*
  • Dietary Supplements / analysis
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Equipment and Supplies
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal*
  • Ointments / analysis
  • Parabens / analysis*
  • Phenols / analysis*
  • Textiles / analysis


  • Benzhydryl Compounds
  • Ointments
  • Parabens
  • Phenols
  • bisphenol A