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PCB levels higher in breast-fed than bottle-fed babies
J.R., Breast milk: A leading source of PCBs, Science News 152 (22):
344, November 29, 1997.
Exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) - oily compounds
that have been used as lubricants and insulating fluids - can
diminish a child's ability to learn (SN: 11/11/95, p. 310). A
new Dutch study now indicates that Rotterdam preschoolers who
were breast-fed during infancy possess 3.6 times as much of
these neurotoxic chemicals in their blood plasma as do children
who had been fed infant formula only.
The study followed 173 children, slightly more than half of whom
had been breast-fed as infants (usually more than 3 months). By
42 months of age, all the children carried at least some PCBs in
their blood. While prenatal exposures and childhood diet
contributed some PCBs, breast milk proved the richest source,
Svati Patandin of Sophia Children's Hospital in Rotterdam and
her collegaues report in the October "American Journal of Public
Health." In fact, their data suggest that while the breast-fed
infants were nursing, PCB concentrations in their blood "must
have reached levels as high as their mothers."
"To our knowledge," they observe, "no other study has measured
plasma PCB levels in children - either formula-fed or breast-fed
during infancy - in relation to environmental exposures to
While many earlier studies attempted to quantify childhood
exposure overall to the 209 PCBs, the Dutch researchers focused
on just four representatives of this family of related
chemicals. As such, notes Corine Koopman-Esseboom, a coauthor
at Sophia Ch dren's Hospital, it's hard to directly compare the
Rotterdam exposures to those reported for U.S. populations.
However, she says, the Dutch exposures "would appear comparable"
to those linked with IQ deficits in Detroit youngsters last year
(SN: 9/14/96, p. 165).
Koopman-Esseboom administered developmental tests to the
Rotterdam infants at ages 3, 10, and 18 months. While the
breast-fed babies had poorer muscle tone than the bottle-fed
infants - something that she says was also sseen in the
PCB-exposed Detroit children - the Dutch youngsters exhibited no
mental delays when compared to formula-fed peers. However, she
notes that unpublished data from a follow-up looking for IQ
deficits in the Dutch preschoolers "did find something."
The solution, she and her coauthors argue, is not to forgo
breast-feeding but to lower PCB concentrations in the food chain
so mothers accumulate less in their milk.
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