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Your Environment. Your Health.

Re-purposing Data to Provide Quick Results in BPA Research

ARRA Success Story

Kim Harley, Ph.D.

University of California - Berkeley

Ten years ago, researchers from the University of California (UC) - Berkeley began following 600 pregnant farm workers in and around the agricultural community of the Salinas valley, Calif. The goal of the researchers was to determine the effects of pesticides on the health of the mothers and their babies. Now, Recovery Act grant recipient, Kim Harley, Ph.D., is re-purposing that vast collection of data for the study of Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical widely used in the plastics industry. Harley, associate director of the UC Berkeley Center for Children's Environmental Health Research  , provided her thoughts on her recently funded project.

Kim Harley, Ph.D.

"We've been collecting samples and data for the past decade to study pesticide effects in California farm workers. With the new ARRA funding, we can reuse this valuable sample group to measure BPA exposure and outcomes."

- Kim Harley, Ph.D.

It's been important for us to create jobs and keep students here who might not otherwise be able to stay. 

Harley: "Our study involves the agricultural community -- basically migrant farm worker families. They are all low income. Many are immigrants from Mexico. This ARRA grant is an opportunity for us to follow this group in a new way. The children of the mothers we began studying a decade ago are nine years old now. We have valuable information on their cognitive development and functioning, neurodevelopment and behavior, and their general health and obesity. We also have tons and tons -- over 100,000 -- stored urine samples gathered from the moms during pregnancy and from the kids at ages five and nine. Whereas before we were looking at pesticides, now we can measure BPA."

"For us, when this grant came out, it was an amazing opportunity. We had these people; we had the samples; we had the outcome information already – now, we can leverage these data to examine a new toxicant. There are very few studies looking at the effects of BPA in humans, and if you were to start this from scratch, it would take you 10 years. We can build on what exists, and hopefully, in just two years, we can get information on in-utero exposure to BPA, later exposure (around the time of puberty), and we can look at how exposure during different time-points affects health."

Photograph of four smiling chidren and one child in the background looking down at the ground
Research on farm workers and their children will evaluate Bisphenol A levels and outcomes such as maternal and neonatal thyroid hormone levels, neurodevelopment, cognitive functioning, IQ and behavior, and obesity.

"The University of California has been hit with really hard times. We have a bilingual, bicultural staff down in Salinas. Some have been with us for eight to 10 years. For us to be able to retain staff and to hire new staff is really important right now. This research does that and it's a great opportunity to leverage and learn more about BPA. In terms of hiring, we've hired a lab manager in Salinas and a data analyst here at Berkeley to analyze data to get these results out. We've also been able to retain a research coordinator, and we may be able to hire a post-doc who graduates in the spring. It's important for us to be able to support students and keep students here who might not otherwise be able to stay." "This project has potential for very high impact. Almost all Americans are exposed to BPA and there's very little is known about the effects in humans. So, it's an important study that lets us look at the effects of BPA in terms of early exposure and child development. Obviously, it has application to the greater population."

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