Perfluorinated alkylate substances, or PFASs, a chemical used to make products like stain-proof textiles, waterproof clothing, food packaging, paints and lubricants and is known to contaminate drinking water in the U.S., are transferred to babies through breast milk. PFASs, which are also linked to cancer, build up in breastfed babies by 20 percent to 30 percent for each month that they consume their mother’s milk.
Widely used class of industrial chemicals in breast milk
PFASs is one type of industrial chemicals that make products resistant to water, grease and stains. While the chemical is being use for more than 60 years, it is linked to reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption and immune system dysfunction. A team of scientists from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found the extent to which PFASs are transferred to babies through breastmilk and through accumulating into levels over time.
“We knew that small amounts of PFAS can occur in breast milk, but our serial blood analyses now show a buildup in the infants, the longer they are breastfed,” according to Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard Chan School.
Breast milk is a major source of PFAS exposure during infancy
In order to support their claim, Grandjean leads a team of researchers who all observed 81 children, looking at levels of PFASs in their blood. The scientists observed their blood at birth and ages 11 months, 18 months and 5 years. They also examine the PFAS levels in mothers of the children at week 32 of pregnancy.
The scientists found increasing PFAS concentrations in the blood of children who were exclusively breastfed. By the time that these children stopped breastfeeding, the levels of PFAS in their blood already exceed to that of their mothers.
Grandjean, however, clarified that their findings should NOT be a reason to stop breastfeeding. “There is no reason to discourage breastfeeding, but we are concerned that these pollutants are transferred to the next generation at a very vulnerable age. Unfortunately, the current U.S. legislation does not require any testing of chemical substances like PFASs for their transfer to babies and any related adverse effects,” Grandjean said.