Toxic Chemicals Found in Breast Milk

June 15, 2021

New study finds that new generation PFAS chemicals that are currently in use in a wide range of products are rising in breast milk, and build up in people – despite opposite claims made by the chemical industry.

A brand new study shows that both legacy and current-use PFAS chemicals – used in food packaging, clothing, and other products – build up in people: 100% of breast milk samples tested positive for these toxic “forever chemicals”.

Despite chemical industry assurances that current-use PFAS do not build up in people, the study – titled, “Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Breast Milk: Concerning Trends for Current-Use PFAS”, revised and published in “Environmental Science & Technology” – found detections of these chemicals (including new generation compounds currently in use) in breast milk to be on the rise globally and doubling every four years.

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.

Scientists from Indiana University, the University of Washington, “Seattle Children’s Research Institute”, and “Toxic-Free Future” (an organization which advocates for the use of safer products, chemicals, and practices through advanced research, organizing, and consumer engagement) led the research.

Authors write:“This is the first study in the last 15 years to analyze per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in breast milk collected from mothers (n = 50) in the United States, and our findings indicate that both legacy and current-use PFAS now contaminate breast milk, exposing nursing infants. … Analysis of the available breast milk PFAS data from around the world over the period of 1996–2019 showed that while the levels of the phased-out PFOS and PFOA have been declining with halving times of 8.1 and 17 years, respectively, the detection frequencies of current-use short-chain PFAS have been increasing with a doubling time of 4.1 years.”

“We now know that babies, along with nature’s perfect food, are getting toxic PFAS that can affect their immune systems and metabolism,” explains Erika Schreder, “Toxic-Free Future” science director and study co-author. “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.”

“These findings make it clear that the switch to newer PFAS over the last decade didn’t solve the problem,” explains Dr. Amina Salamova, study co-author and associate research scientist at Indiana University. “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.”

“Exposures to PFAS can weaken our immune system, making a person more vulnerable to infectious diseases,” explains Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, study co-author and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Research Institute. “It is especially concerning to see exposures happening through bioaccumulation in breast milk, which then exposes a nursing child during a critical period of development. While we know that PFAS chemicals may be harmful, it is important to remember that breast milk provides significant benefits to newborn and child health. Breast milk is still best for newborns.”

If a harmful chemical can end up in breast milk due to its persistence or ability to bioaccumulate, it should be prohibited in everyday products we are constantly exposed to,” said Laurie Valeriano, executive director of “Toxic-Free Future”. “Prevention-based policies are critical to ending this harmful and unnecessary contamination of our most precious resources – from breast milk to drinking water.”

Full Study “Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Breast Milk: Concerning Trends for Current-Use PFAS
Press Release by “Toxic Free Future”