Public health advocates demanded federal action to ban the use of toxic FPAS “forever chemicals” after 100% of breast milk samples were found to be contaminated with PFAS at levels 2,000 times those considered safe for drinking water.
Researchers at Toxic-Free Future, Indiana University, the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Research Institute studied 50 samples of breast milk from American women from all over the country, representing a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. All 50 samples contained per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at levels nearly 2,000 times the amount considered safe for drinking water.
The chemicals do not break down and have been shown to accumulate in humans — including in the food considered by the American Academy of Pediatrics to be the most beneficial for babies.
“We now know that babies, along with nature’s perfect food, are getting toxic PFAS that can affect their immune systems and metabolism,” said Erika Schreder, science director at Toxic-Free Future and a co-author of the study, which was published Thursday in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
The group called on state and federal lawmakers to ban the use of PFAS, which are found in food-packaging, non-stick cookware, water-proof clothing and stain guards like ScotchGard.
PFAS have been linked to hormonal disruptions, cancers, liver disease, thyroid disease, plummeting sperm counts in men, weakened immune systems, and other health problems. There has not been a thorough analysis of how the chemicals affect newborns and older babies.
Manufacturers often don’t disclose the chemicals they use to make their products, making PFAS difficult to avoid.
Chemical companies have claimed in recent years that PFAS that are currently in use do not build up in humans, but the study found 16 compounds including several of the industry’s newer generation of chemicals.
PFAS were found at levels ranging from 50 parts per trillion to more than 1,850 parts per trillion. The study also found that the presence of PFAS in breast milk is on the rise around the world and is doubling every four years.
“The chemicals are so ubiquitous that we can’t really predict who will have the highest exposures,” Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, a pediatrician at the University of Washington and study co-author, told The Guardian.
The EU has moved to ban the use of PFAS when other substances can be used instead, and Washington state lawmakers are working to phase out the use of forever chemicals. At the federal level, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) is expected to introduce a ban on PFAS in food packaging.
“If a harmful chemical can end up in breast milk due to its persistence or ability to bioaccumulate, it should be prohibited in everyday products we are constantly exposed to,” said Laurie Valeriano, executive director of Toxic-Free Future. “It’s time for more states and the federal government to follow the lead of Washington state and ban PFAS and other equally dangerous classes of chemicals in products, especially when safer alternatives are found. Prevention-based policies are critical to ending this harmful and unnecessary contamination of our most precious resources — from breast milk to drinking water.”