Prenatal exposure to PCBs and dioxins may alter children's innate preferences for masculine or feminine play behavior, according to a new Dutch study. These chemicals are believed to be "endocrine disruptors" that modulate the effects of steroid hormones (see related articles in this issue, Crime Times, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 4, Pages 2 & 3 and Crime Times, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 4, Page 6).
Hestien J. I. Vreugdenhil and colleagues evaluated the play behavior of 207 young children who are part of a long-term study on the effects of PCBs and dioxins. Using the Pre-School Activity Inventory (PSAI), the researchers categorized the children's play behaviors as masculine or feminine, and also calculated a "composite" score (defined as the difference between the feminine and masculine scores, with a negative score implying masculine behavior and a positive score feminine behavior). In addition, they analyzed data on the children's exposure to PCBs and dioxins using measurements from maternal and cord plasma and breast milk.
"In boys," the researchers report, "higher prenatal PCB levels were related with less masculinized play... whereas in girls higher PCB levels were associated with more masculinized play." In addition, they say, higher prenatal dioxin exposure was associated with more feminized play in both boys and girls.
Breastfed children, who had more post-natal exposure to PCBs and dioxins than bottle-fed children, did not show behavioral changes. This suggests, the researchers say, that PCBs and dioxins may disrupt hormones associated with childhood play behavior early during fetal development.
Their results, the researchers conclude, indicate that behavioral changes may occur as a result of prenatal steroid hormone imbalances caused by exposure to environmental levels of PCBs, dioxins, and other organochlorine compounds.
"Effects of perinatal exposure to PCBs and dioxins on play behavior in Dutch children at school age," Hestien J. I. Vreugdenhil, Froukje M. E. Slijper, Paul G. H. Mulder, and Nynke Weisglas-Kuperus, Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 110, No. 10, October 2002. Address: Hestien J. I. Vreugdenhil, Dept. of Pediatrics, Division of Neonatology, Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.