Breast milk dioxins in Hong Kong and Pearl River Delta

Environ Health Perspect. 2006 Feb;114(2):202-8. doi: 10.1289/ehp.8116.


There are no previous reports from South China on chemically determined polychlorinated dibenzo-para-dioxins (PCDDs), polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs), and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in human breast milk expressed as World Health Organization (WHO) toxic equivalents (TEQs). In a 2002-2003 WHO exposure study, 13 pools of breast milk comprising samples from 316 primiparous women in Hong Kong in 2002 were analyzed by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry for 29 PCDD/F and dioxin-like PCB congeners. Total WHO-TEQs ranged from 8.97 to 16.7 pg/g fat (weighted mean, 12.9 pg; weighted median, 13.4 pg). Variations in TEQs included positive associations with age (R2 = 0.73, p < 0.0005), higher consumption of dairy products and seafood, and lower TEQs in overseas mothers and ever-smokers. Congener profiles indicated geographic specificity of exposure in Hong Kong, mainland China, and overseas Asian countries, including higher proportions of PCB-TEQs (overseas) and PCDF-TEQs (mainland China). The median TEQs of PCDD/Fs (8.69 pg/g fat) and PCBs (4.73 pg/g fat) in Hong Kong were highest among the five Asian Pacific countries but lower than the levels for at least half of the European countries that participated in the WHO study. However, future international studies should incorporate mother's age in the design of the pooling strategy to allow standardization by other exposure factors and valid comparisons among different countries. The findings allow support for the WHO breast-feeding advisory. Trends in human dioxin levels in the region cannot yet be determined, and rigorous controls are needed to reduce emissions of dioxins and human exposure in mainland China.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Benzofurans / analysis*
  • Breast Feeding*
  • China
  • Dibenzofurans, Polychlorinated
  • Diet
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis*
  • Female
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Hong Kong
  • Humans
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / analysis*
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins / analogs & derivatives*
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins / analysis
  • Risk Factors
  • Soil Pollutants / analysis*


  • Benzofurans
  • Dibenzofurans, Polychlorinated
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins
  • Soil Pollutants
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls