Scientists are ‘concerned’ after high levels of ‘forever chemicals’ found in breast milk of mothers

By | May 16, 2021

Scientists say they are ‘concerned’ after high levels of ‘forever chemicals’ used in everything from cosmetics to take out containers found in the breast milk of US mothers – up to 2,000 TIMES greater than what is declared safe in drinking water

  • A new study looked at breast milk samples from 50 U.S. mothers and found PFAS chemicals in 100% of samples
  • PFAS are man-made chemicals used since the 1940s that are linked to behavioral problems, cancer and infertility
  • Levels were found in concentrations between 50 parts per trillion (ppt) to 1,850 ppt with a median concentration of 121 ppt
  • An environmental group suggests a threshold of 1ppt in drinking water and a CDC group recommends a limit of 52 ppt for adults and 14 ppt for children

Toxic chemicals were found in 100 percent of breast milk samples from U.S. mothers, a new study found.

Researchers tested 50 samples and all came back positive for PFAS, man-made chemicals that don’t break down in the environment and have been linked to several health problems.

Known colloquially as ‘forever chemicals’, PFAS chemicals contain compounds that can taint soil, pollute water and ruin composts.

They also can remain in the body for days or months before being excreted, increasing the risk of severe disorders, birth defects and conditions, including cancer.

What’s more, the team – from Indiana University, the University of Washington and the non-profit Toxic-Free Future – said that in some circumstances, levels were up 2,000 times higher than what is deemed acceptable in drinking water by U.S. health and environmental agencies.

The authors told The Guardian that the findings are ‘a cause for concern.’

‘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,’ co-author Erica Schreder, science director for Toxic-Free Future told the newspaper. . 

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are man-made chemicals that have been used in several industries around the world since the 1940s.

They are ubiquitous, appearing in everything from cosmetics to water-repellent clothing to products that scrub away grease and oil, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

PFAS can also be found in molded fiber bowls, which are served at numerous takeout locations and were meant to be the solution to large amounts of generated waste.

The team says its study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, is the first the in the last 15 years to look at PFAS in breast samples.


PFAS are manmade chemicals used as oil and water repellents and coatings for common products including cookware, carpets, and textiles.

These endocrine-disrupting chemicals do not break down when they are released into the environment, and they continue to accumulate over time.

PFAS chemicals can contaminate drinking water supplies near facilities where the chemicals are used.

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PFAS contamination has been detected in water near manufacturing facilities as well as military bases and firefighting training facilities where foam containing PFAS is used.

They also enter the food supply through food packaging materials and contaminated soil. 


The samples, all from mothers within the U.S., were tested for nine short-chain and 30 long-chain compounds.

Short-chain PFAS compounds, believed to be less dangerous than their long-chain counterparts, which can stay in the body for days or even months before being excreted completely.

In total, 16 compounds were detected. Some were found in as few as four percent of samples and other in as many as 100 percent. 

PFAS levels were found in concentrations between 50 parts per trillion (ppt) to 1,850 ppt with a median concentration of 121 ppt.   

The EPA currently has no guidelines or threshold for PFAS levels in breast milk.  

However, the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization, recommends no more than 1ppt in drinking water.

Additionally, the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, suggests a limit of 52 ppt for adults and 14 ppt for children.

Co-author Dr Sheela Sathyanarayana, a pediatrician with the University of Washington, told The Guardian that few studies have looked at the effects of PFAS on newborn babies.

However, past studies have found that the chemicals can have an effect on older children by disrupting hormone systems. 

‘What makes the issue so difficult on an individual level’, Sathyanarayana said.

‘What it speaks to is that the chemicals are so ubiquitous that we can’t really predict who will have the highest exposures/’

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