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Analytic considerations for measuring environmental chemicals in breast milk.
  • Published Date:
    Jun 2002
  • Source:
    Environ Health Perspect. 110(6):A317-A324.
Filetype[PDF - 524.75 KB]


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  • Description:
    The presence of environmental chemicals in human breast milk is of general concern because of the potential health consequence of these chemicals to the breast-fed infant and the mother. In addition to the mother's exposure, several features determine the presence of environmental chemicals in breast milk and their ability to be determined analytically. These include maternal factors and properties of the environmental chemical--both physical and chemical--such as its lipid solubility, degree of ionization, and molecular weight. Environmental chemicals with high lipid solubility are likely to be found in breast milk; they include polyhalogenated compounds such as polychlorinated biphenyls, polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins, polychlorinated dibenzofurans, organochlorine insecticides, and polybrominated diphenylethers. These fat-soluble chemicals are incorporated into the milk as it is synthesized, and they must be measured in accordance with the fat content of the milk to allow for meaningful comparisons within an individual and among populations. Although the analytic approach selected to measure the environmental chemical is predominantly determined by the characteristics of the chemical, the concentration of the chemical in the milk sample and the existence of structurally similar chemicals (e.g., congeners) must be considered as well. In general, the analytic approach for measuring environmental chemicals in breast milk is similar to the approach for measuring the same chemicals in other matrices, except special considerations must be given for the relatively high fat content of milk. The continued efforts of environmental scientists to measure environmental chemicals in breast milk is important for defining the true contribution of these chemicals to public health, especially to the health of the newborn. Work is needed for identifying and quantifying additional environmental chemicals in breast milk from the general population and for developing analytic methods that have increased sensitivity and the ability to speciate various chemicals.