Breast-feeding exposure of infants to cadmium, lead, and mercury: a public health viewpoint.

Division of Toxicology, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Atlanta, Georgia 30333, USA.
Toxicology and Industrial Health (Impact Factor: 1.71). 07/1997; 13(4):495-517. DOI: 10.1177/074823379701300403
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The purpose of this report is to provide an overview of the public health implications of exposure via breast milk to cadmium, lead, and mercury for nursing infants and to provide health-based guidance. Daily intakes were calculated and compared with guidance values used for public health assessments at hazardous waste sites. Cadmium, lead, and mercury under normal conditions are found in breast milk at concentration ranges of < 1 microgram/L, 2-5 micrograms/L, and 1.4-1.7 micrograms/L, respectively. Women exposed environmentally or occupationally can have higher levels in their breast milk. Concentrations of about 5 micrograms/L (cadmium), 20 micrograms/L (lead), and 3.5 micrograms/L (mercury) appear to be adequate screening levels. Many factors affect both the distribution of cadmium, lead, and mercury in breast milk and the health consequences to an infant. It is not clear what additional impact low-level exposure via breast milk may have on an infant born with a body burden to one of these metals. There is sufficient evidence to make the case that contaminated breast milk is a source of potential risk to infants in certain populations. Prevention strategies that include behavior modification and proper nutrition should be communicated to women at risk. Identification and elimination of exposure pathways and a critical analysis of the benefits of breast feeding versus heavy metal exposure are needed on a site-specific or individual basis. Research is required to better understand the impact of low-level exposure to heavy metals via breast milk. Breastfeeding should be encouraged under most circumstances.

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