BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – A new study finding toxic chemicals in one hundred percent of breast milk samples tested was published in Environmental Science & Technology. Amina Salamova, associate research scientist at the Indiana University O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, joined scientists from Toxic-Free Future, the University of Washington, and Seattle Children’s Research Institute to show that toxic PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated substances)—including new generation compounds currently in use—build up in people. Despite chemical industry assurances that current-use PFAS do not build up in people, the study finds detections of these chemicals in breast milk to be on the rise globally and doubling every four years.
Previous reports have confirmed that companies put PFAS chemicals in a wide range of everyday products, from food packaging and clothing to carpet and upholstery. States and retailers are starting to take action to restrict these chemicals in products, but federal regulations are needed to prevent the use of PFAS or other chemicals that can build up in breast milk in consumer products.
This study, the first since 2005 to analyze PFAS in breast milk from mothers in the United States, found that 50 out of 50 women tested positive for PFAS, with levels ranging from 52 parts per trillion (ppt) to more than 500 ppt. Breast milk samples were tested for 39 different PFAS, including 9 current-use compounds. Results found that both current-use and phased-out PFAS contaminate breast milk, exposing nursing infants to the effects of toxic chemicals. A total of 16 PFAS were detected with 12 found in more than 50% of the samples. The levels of PFAS that are currently in use in a wide range of products are rising in breast milk.
“These findings make it clear that the switch to newer PFAS over the last decade didn’t solve the problem,” explains Salamova. “This study provides more evidence that current-use PFAS are building up in people. What this means is that we need to address the entire class of PFAS chemicals, not just legacy-use variations.”
“We now know that babies, along with nature’s perfect food, are getting toxic PFAS that can affect their immune systems and metabolism,” explains Toxic-Free Future science director and study co-author Erika Schreder. “We shouldn’t be finding any PFAS in breast milk and our findings make it clear that broader phaseouts are needed to protect babies and young children during the most vulnerable stages of life. Moms work hard to protect their babies, but big corporations are putting these, and other toxic chemicals that can contaminate breast milk, in products when safer options are available.”
Chemical companies make PFAS chemicals for their stain-resistant, water-repellent, and grease-proof properties. A growing body of scientific research has found links between exposures to PFAS and a wide range of health problems including a weaker immune system, cancer, increased cholesterol levels, pregnancy-induced hypertension, liver damage, reduced fertility, and increased risk of thyroid disease. Scientists are most concerned about the cumulative impact resulting from exposures to products, contaminated drinking water, and contaminated food.
Read more about the study at Toxic Free Future.
About the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs
The O’Neill School is a world leader in public and environmental affairs and is the largest school of public administration and public policy in the United States. In the 2021 "Best Graduate Public Affairs Programs" by U.S. News & World Report, the O'Neill School ranks first in the country. Four of its specialty programs are ranked in the top-five listings, including nonprofit management, ranked first.