Study: Women's breast milk in U.S. contains high levels of toxic "forever chemicals"

Muna Hassan

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A new study tested women’s breast milk for toxic elements, and found that in samples tested, there were levels of PFAS in concerning levels.

PFAS, also known as per and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are classified as “forever chemicals” due to the fact that they do not break down naturally. In addition, they begin to accumulate in humans, and are linked to multiple negative health effects, such as birth defects, cancer, liver disease, thyroid disease and various other health issues.

These chemicals are used to make products people use every day, such as clothing and food packaging among other items.

“The study shows that PFAS contamination of breast milk is likely universal in the U.S., and that these harmful chemicals are contaminating what should be nature’s perfect food,” said study co-author Erika Schreder.

In the study, 50 women had their breast milk tested for PFAS contamination, and the results came back that the breast milk contained the toxins at levels that were nearly 2,000 times higher than is advised for safe drinking water.

While there are no recommended standards for these toxins in breast milk, researchers are alarmed by the study’s finding considering the high levels found in the breast milk when compared to what health advocates recommend for safe water for children.

Additionally, though researchers were only able to sample a small number of women for the study, all the women were affected by elevated levels of toxins, regardless of socioeconomic and geographic markers. Researchers say this makes the issue more important, as it broadens who may be potentially exposed.

“What it speaks to is that the chemicals are so ubiquitous that we can’t really predict who will have the highest exposures,” she added.

This is the first study that has looked at breast milk contamination the U.S. since 2005. The amount of toxins measured in the current study shows that the problem is getting worse.

Older compounds were still present, as well as the new generation of PFAS being measured as well.

“The study provides more evidence that the PFAS that companies are currently using and putting into products are behaving like the ones they phased out, and they’re also getting into breast milk and exposing children at a very vulnerable phase of development,” Schreder said.

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Muna has been a journalist and fitness professional for more than 10 years. With degrees in exercise science and dietetics, Muna focuses on informing people about how to lead a healthier lifestyle. Muna is the owner of Body and Mind by Muna, an online gym for at-home workouts, as well as MuslimahFit, a fitness app for women.

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