- A study found dangerous levels of PFAS in the breast milk of 50 Seattle-area mothers.
- PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because they linger in human bodies and the environment.
- The study detected some newer PFAS that could also be harmful to human health.
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They can also get into breast milk.
A recent study detected significant levels of the chemicals in breast milk from 50 new mothers living in the Seattle area. The samples tested had PFAS levels that wouldn’t be safe for drinking water, and the study authors said the findings were “cause for concern.”
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, can linger in the body for life and pollute the environment for even longer. Exposure as early as infancy could lead to health problems later in life, including high cholesterol, cancer, weakened immune system function, and thyroid hormone disruption.
One survey indicated that PFAS are present, to some degree, in the blood of more than 98% of Americans. Exposures to PFAS can build up over decades via drinking water and environmental fumes, as well as via household products such as nonstick pans, rain gear, and stain-protected sofas.
“I had this moment when I realized that I could do the best job I could, and I would still run into things out of my control. Then it just was really, really frustrating,” Vera Harrington, a new mother who learned she had nine types of PFAS in her breast milk, told The Seattle Times.
A new generation of PFAS
The paper, published in a May edition of Environmental Science & Technology, was the first report of PFAS levels in breast milk collected in the US in the past 15 years.
Past investigations focused on two older chemicals: PFOS and PFOA. They’re both no longer made in the US, since they’ve been linked to adverse health effects.
Those chemicals represented nearly 40% of the total PFAS contamination in the Seattle study, since they’re still circulating in human bodies and communities. The good news is that they were detected at much lower concentrations than in previous studies.
But there’s a new class of PFAS on the rise. Shorter-chain PFAS have replaced some of the older, more well-known chemicals – and they’re not much safer. Two of these, PFHxA and PFHpA, were detected in most of the milk samples of the Seattle-area moms.
Based on early findings about short-chain PFAS, the new generation of chemicals could be similarly harmful to human health, Dr. Philippe Grandjean, an environmental health expert, recently said at EWG’s Inaugural PFAS Conference.
“I would wholeheartedly support that we look at the full perspective, instead of taking the next generation hostage and [waiting to] see what happens over time,” Grandjean said in a panel about PFAS exposure and human health.