Concern continues to be appropriate regarding environmental contaminants that find their way into the breast milk of lactating mothers. Dioxins produced during industrial processes and persistent organic pollutants (POPs), such as organochlorine pesticides and olychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), are of great concern due to their long half-lives in the
body and their contribution to the body burden of contaminants in mothers and babies. Such substances are toxic to the nervous and immune system of the developing fetus. The number of environmental chemicals is in the thousands, with many new ones being added each year. Exposure may be geographical, occupational, or accidental.
Researchers and health authorities may use breast milk sampling as a measure of community-wide contamination because it is a rapid, sensitive, and less invasive method than drawing blood or obtaining a fat biopsy. Some environmentalists and researchers believe that a breast milk surveillance system should be established to monitor the extent of population body burdens of chemical pollutants and as a means to identify important emerging pollutants (1). Their interest in establishing such a system is not based on concerns about health threats per se to breastfed infants, but either on their desire to publicize the need to clean up our environment or to provide a simple, low cost means of tracking persistent organic pollutants.
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