| Carcinogenic Chemicals Used To Make Teflon,
Scotchgard, Found In Human Milk
Chemicals used to make nonstick cookware
such as teflon
and stain-resistant fabrics are spreading around the world and
turning up in surprising places, everywhere from wildlife and
drinking water supplies to human blood. Now, a team of researchers
including Kathleen Arcaro of the University of Massachusetts Amherst
has found these suspected carcinogens in samples of human milk
from nursing mothers in Massachusetts.
"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," says Arcaro, a professor in the department
of veterinary and animal sciences and a member of the environmental
sciences program. "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."
The breast milk was collected as part of Arcaro's larger,
ongoing study examining the link between environmental exposures
and breast cancer risk. Chemical analyses were conducted in the
laboratory of Kuruntachalam Kannan at the New York State Department
of Health. Results are scheduled for publication in Environmental
Science and Technology. This research was supported by the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute
of Environmental Health Sciences.
Milk samples were collected in 2004 from 45 nursing mothers in
Massachusetts and analyzed 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 nonstick cookware. On average, each liter
of milk, which is roughly equivalent to one quart, contained 131
billionths of a gram of PFOS and 44 billionths of a gram of PFOA.
The amount of PFCs that nursing infants would consume each day
did not exceed Total Daily Intake Values set by the U.K. Food
Standards Agency Committee on Toxicology, which were based on
a review of current toxicology studies.
Arcaro cautions that recommended intakes of PFCs based on Total
Daily Intake values should be interpreted with caution, since
there is no consensus on these values, which are derived from
rodent studies. Mothers should also compare the risks of breast
feeding with the benefits, which include better nutrition and
immune system development and enhanced defense against infections
Milk from mothers who were nursing for the first time was also
studied to see how PFC concentrations changed over time. Total
PFC concentrations and the concentration of PFOS increased 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 percent of a person's total daily intake of PFCs."
Food sources of PFCs include grease-resistant packaging such
popcorn bags and pizza boxes, as well as fish and other animals
that contain these chemicals. Exposure can also come from personal
care products including dental floss and shampoo.
PFCs are persistent chemicals that can linger in the environment
and the human body for years without being broken down. Several
studies have documented their presence in the blood of newborns
collected immediately after birth, and in children between the
ages of 2 and 12, who have blood levels similar to those found
These studies led the team to investigate breast feeding as a
source of PFCs, information that will be needed to determine the
sources and magnitude of exposure in infants and children and
whether PFCs have an effect on birth outcomes in newborns.