Exposure to bisphenol A (BPA) is widespread in New York City’s inner-city minority populations. Researchers detected higher levels of the industrial substance in African-American women and children compared with Dominicans, according to findings published in the journal Environmental Research and reported by Environmental Health News.

For the study, scientists enrolled 568 mothers and children as participants. Researchers found that African-American women and their children at ages 3, 5 and 7 had higher mean BPA levels when compared with their Dominican neighbors in northern Manhattan and the Bronx. (The levels were highest among 3 year olds.)

Health effects linked to the chemical include reproductive problems in men and women, metabolic disorders and breast cancer. What’s more, exposure before birth and in infants may alter neurodevelopment and increase the risk of obesity.

BPA and phthalates are found in soft plastics and many personal care products. In addition, BPA is used in food can linings, glass jar tops, thermal paper receipts, water pipes, cigarette filters and dental sealants.

The study also found that during the summer months BPA levels were elevated in children ages 5 and 7 if their mothers were single. What’s more, during pregnancy, the mothers’ BPA levels were lower than the children’s at all levels. And scientists found that BPA concentrations were positively associated with concentrations of phthalates, another widely used environmental chemical, during pregnancy and in early childhood.

Although further studies are needed to evaluate factors that lead to high exposure in minority communities, researchers suggest that pregnant women and children should minimize their exposure to BPA.

Click here for more information on the risks of BPA exposure.