Persistent environmental contaminants in human milk: concentrations and time trends in Italy

Chemosphere. 2008 Aug;73(1 Suppl):S220-7. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2007.12.036. Epub 2008 May 6.


Breast milk monitoring studies of persistent and toxic environmental contaminants are of primary importance for carrying out an adequate risk assessment at the actual levels of human exposure and represent a major source of information on infant perinatal exposure. Milk specimens from mothers of the general population of the Venice and Rome areas were collected over the 1998-2001 period, pooled, and analyzed for selected persistent organic pollutants such as polychlorodibenzodioxins (PCDDs), polychlorodibenzofurans (PCDFs), polychlorobiphenyls (PCBs), organochlorinated pesticides (p,p'-DDE, p,p'-DDT, hexachlorobenzene), and polybromodiphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and the heavy metals Cd, Co, Cu, Hg, Mn, Pb, Sn, and Zn. The goal was to verify whether mother milk from the Venice area, whose lagoon is partly under direct industrial impact, had a contaminant load greater than that from the Rome area, primarily urban. For mothers from the Venice area, the correlation between fish and fishery product consumption and contaminant concentrations in milk was also explored, with however inconclusive results. The concentrations of PCDDs, PCDFs, dioxin-like PCBs, and organochlorinated pesticides determined in this study were compared with those available from a previous analytical work carried out on 1987 human milk pools of domestic origin: the declining trend of the aforesaid contaminants in milk is confirmed to be in agreement with what was observed in other European countries. The breast milk content of (137)Cs and (40)K radionuclides was also determined and compared with data obtained in other research programmes carried out in Italy: the health risk for breastfed infants was deemed to be not significant.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cities
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Maternal Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Metals, Heavy / analysis
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Organic Chemicals / analysis
  • Radioisotopes / analysis
  • Time Factors


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Metals, Heavy
  • Organic Chemicals
  • Radioisotopes