On May 13, 2021, peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology published a study by Guomao Zheng et al. analyzing the breast milk from 50 mothers in the United States for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) currently and historically used in manufacturing. The authors found 16 PFAS chemicals in the breastmilk samples with perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA, CAS 72968-3-88) in every sample and perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA, CAS 335-76-2), perfluorododecanoic acid (PFDoA, CAS 307-55-1), perfluorotridecanoic acid (PFTrDA, CAS 72629-94-8 ), and perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA, CAS 307-24-4) in more than 90%.
PFHxA and three other chemicals found in the breastmilk are members of a group of compounds referred to as short-chain PFAS. Short-chain PFAS have been replacing long-chain PFAS in manufactured goods for the last two decades. Chemical manufacturers’ research found they were less likely to accumulate in the body, prompting the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), US Environmental Protection Agency, and other regulatory bodies to encourage the switch. However, recent reporting by The Guardian finds that chemical companies such as DuPont and Daikin lied about the safety of short-chain PFAS to the FDA. Both companies are reported to have hidden research from the FDA “that suggested toxicity to lab animals’ livers and kidneys at low exposure levels.”
In late April, a group of universities and NGOs launched a publicly accessible database of studies measuring health effects from 29 PFAS (FPF reported). PFAS are widely used in food packaging, cosmetics, textiles, and other household materials largely as a water and grease repellents (FPF reported). This is concerning as Zheng et al. found that while levels of “legacy” long-chain PFAS in human breastmilk is declining, the concentrations of short-chain PFAS in breastmilk “have almost tripled between 1996 and 2019.” Restaurants and other organizations have begun moving away from the use of PFAS altogether (FPF reported here and here), while local governments and national health organizations are beginning to strengthen regulations around the highly persistent substances (FPF reported here and here).
Guomao Zheng, et al. (May 13, 2021). “Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Breast Milk: Concerning Trends for Current-Use PFAS.” Environmental Science and Technology
Tom Perkins (May 12, 2021). “Chemical giants hid dangers of ‘forever chemicals’ in food packaging.” The Guardian
Tom Perkins (May 13, 2021). “Study finds alarming levels of ‘forever chemicals’ in US mothers’ breast milk.” The Guardian