Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Analytic Considerations for Measuring Environmental Chemicals in Breast Milk. (Chemical Contaminants in Breast Milk: Mini-Monograph)

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Analytic Considerations for Measuring Environmental Chemicals in Breast Milk. (Chemical Contaminants in Breast Milk: Mini-Monograph)

Article excerpt

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. Key words. analytic, chemical, environment, human breast milk, measurement, toxicant.

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Breast milk is unique as a matrix for biomonitoring because, in addition to serving as a matrix for the many uses of biomonitoring, it also serves as a food source for a segment of the human population; thus, the analyses of breast milk for environmental chemicals as well as for nutrients are of wide scientific interest. One of the earliest reports of the measurement of an environmental chemical in breast milk was by Laug et al. in 1951 (1). They reported that the breast milk from 32 women from the general population of Washington, DC, contained 1,1,1 -trichloro-2, 2-bis(4-chlorophenyl)ethane (p,p'-DDT or DDT) at an average concentration of 0.13 ppm. Laug et al. (1) attributed the primary source of DDT to their diet. Over the years, many more chemicals have been measured in human breast milk, our understanding of the interaction between lactation and exposure to environmental chemicals has grown, and our analytic methods have become more sophisticated. Because the fat content of milk is relatively high, most of the chemicals that have been monitored in milk are those that have high lipid solubility, in particular, polyhalogenated chemicals. These chemicals tend to degrade slowly in the environment, to bioaccumulate and bioconcentrate in the food chain, and to have long half-lives in humans. Certain adverse health and reproductive outcomes have been attributed to these chemicals in laboratory animals and in wildlife, as well as in humans. Therefore, public health officials, environmental regulators, and scientists are concerned about their sources, their presence in our ecosystems and in people, and finally the relation between exposure and adverse health outcomes. Scientists develop and apply methods to measure these chemicals in human specimens, such as breast milk, and also in other, matrices, both environmental and biological. …

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