Packaging chemicals found in breast milk, says study

By Dominique Patton

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Breast milk, Immune system, Breastfeeding

Chemicals found in food packaging and other products appear to be
transferred by nursing mothers to their babies via breast milk,
researchers have found.

The new research suggests that mothers may need to be more aware of the products they are consuming when breast-feeding. "Perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, are found in human blood around the world, including the blood of newborns, but this is the first study in the United States to document their occurrence in human milk,"​ said Kathleen Arcaro, lead researcher and professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the US. "While nursing does not expose infants to a dose that exceeds recommended limits, breast milk should be considered as an additional source of PFCs when determining a child's total exposure,"​ advised Arcaro. PFCs are suspected cancer-causing chemicals found in grease-resistant packaging such as microwave popcorn bags and pizza boxes, as well as fish and other animals. Exposure can also come from personal care products including dental floss and shampoo. The chemicals can linger in the environment and the human body for years without being broken down. Several studies have already found PFCs in the blood of newborns immediately after birth, and in children between the ages of 2 and 12, who have blood levels similar to those found in adults. This led the Massachusetts research team to investigate breast-feeding as a source of PFCs. Writing in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, the researchers describe how they tested for nine different PFCs. Perfluorooctane-sulfonate (PFOS), used to make stain-resistant fabrics, was found in the highest concentration in breast milk, followed by perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), used in non-stick cookware. On average, each litre of milk contained 131 billionths of a gram of PFOS and 44 billionths of a gram of PFOA. However, the amount of PFCs that nursing infants would consume each day did not exceed Total Daily Intake Values set by the UK's Food Standards Agency Committee on Toxicology, noted the scientists. Arcaro warned though that these Total Daily Intake values have been derived from rodent studies and may not therefore be a reliable basis for assessing risk. The researchers also found that milk from first-time mothers had increased concentrations of the chemical during the first six months of nursing. "This may be related to increased food intake to meet the energy demands of nursing, and changes in food consumption patterns in nursing mothers,"​ says Arcaro. In a Canadian study, diet was shown to contribute 61 per cent of a person's total daily intake of PFCs, she said. Arcaro added that potential risks needed to be weighed against the significant benefits from breast-feeding, which include better nutrition and immune system development and enhanced defence against infections in children. Environ. Sci. Technol.,42​ (8), 3096-3101, 2008. 10.1021/es702789k Web Release Date:​ March 7, 2008

Related topics: Fresh Milk

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