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Pilot study on PFAS in Dutch breast milk

7 September 2022
A measurable level of PFAS has been found in breast milk from Dutch women in the Dordrecht area. This is the result of a pilot study conducted by VU Amsterdam on behalf of the Dutch television programme ‘Zembla’ and French television programme ‘Envoyé Spécial’. For this pilot study, breast milk of ten mothers in the Dordrecht area was analysed for the presence of 37 types of PFAS.

PFAS is the collective name for a group of very poorly degradable chemicals that has been associated with adverse health effects, including effects on the immune system. Humans are exposed to PFAS through various sources, and it is known that PFAS can be found worldwide in human blood and breast milk. Based on this pilot study, no conclusions can be drawn on the source of the PFAS in breast milk. It is also impossible to determine whether these Dutch women have a high or low concentration in their milk, as little is known about the amount of PFAS in breast milk in the Netherlands.

The pilot study showed the presence of PFOA, PFOS and PFHxS in all breast milk samples, and in some also PFNA, PFDA and PFHpA. The average amount of total PFAS measured was about 77 ng/L breast milk. The European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) has established that a total concentration of 133 ng/L of PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS and PFNA in breast milk is safe. At this concentration, no adverse effects on the immune system of young children from PFAS in breast milk are expected. The PFAS concentrations measured in the VU pilot study do not give RIVM cause to recommend any changes to the current advice on breastfeeding.

The pilot study was led by Jacob de Boer, environmental chemist and Professor Emeritus of VU Amsterdam. As responsible investigator, De Boer drew conclusions based on the measurements and made statements in Zembla about the origin and possible health effects of the measured PFAS. Majorie van Duursen, VU Amsterdam Professor of Toxicology and head of the department where the analyses were carried out, regrets that the advance notice of the Zembla broadcast caused confusion about the conclusions that can be drawn from the pilot study. ‘Larger-scale research into the concentrations and possible adverse health effects of the PFAS in Dutch breast milk is needed in order to provide targeted health protection advice,’ according to van Duursen. She refers to the recent RIVM advisory reports on food from PFAS-contaminated vegetable gardens or fish from the Westerschelde. Nevertheless, she expresses her concern on the widespread pollution by PFAS: ‘Exposure to PFAS really needs to be reduced to protect humans and the environment from adverse effects. These measurements show once again that no one can escape PFAS.’

Sources:

EFSA report calculating safe PFAS concentration in breast milk: Risk to human health related to the presence of perfluoroalkyl substances in food. EFSA Journal 2020;18(9):6223

 PFAS concentrations measured in the pilot study conducted by VU Amsterdam.