Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dichlorodiphenyl dichloroethene (DDE) in human milk: effects of maternal factors and previous lactation

Am J Public Health. 1986 Feb;76(2):172-7. doi: 10.2105/ajph.76.2.172.


The authors measured polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dichlorodiphenyl dichloroethene (DDE) in maternal serum, cord blood, placenta, and serial samples of breast milk from 868 women. Almost all samples of breast milk showed detectable levels of both chemicals. Overall, values for DDE in this study are within the range of those found previously, whereas those for PCBs are somewhat higher. Possible causes of variation in levels were investigated. For DDE, older women, Black women, cigarette smokers, and women who consumed sport fish during pregnancy had higher levels; only age and race showed large effects. For PCBs, older women, women who regularly drink alcohol, and primiparae had higher levels. In addition, both chemicals showed modest variation across occupational groupings. Casual exposure to a PCB spill did not result in chemical levels different from background. In general, women have higher levels in their first lactation and in the earlier samples of a given lactation, and levels decline both with time spent breast-feeding and with number of children nursed. These striking declines are presumably a measure of exposure to the child.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • African Americans
  • Breast Feeding
  • Child, Preschool
  • Colostrum / analysis
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene / analysis*
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene / blood
  • Female
  • Fetal Blood / analysis
  • Food Contamination
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lactation*
  • Maternal Age
  • Milk, Human / analysis*
  • North Carolina
  • Placenta / analysis
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / analysis*
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / blood
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking


  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls