Concentrations and determinants of lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic in pooled donor breast milk in Spain

Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2022 Mar:240:113914. doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2021.113914. Epub 2021 Dec 31.


Aim: To measure concentrations of lead (Pb), mercury (Hg), cadmium (Cd), and arsenic (As) in longitudinally collected donor breast milk samples and to determine associated factors.

Methods: Pb, Hg, Cd, and As concentrations were measured in 242 pooled breast milk samples from 83 donors to a Human Milk Bank in Spain, in 2015-2018, determining their association with the donors' sociodemographic profile, dietary and lifestyle habits, and post-partum time, among other factors, and with the nutritional characteristics of samples. Mixed-effect linear regression was used to identify predictors of Hg and As concentrations in breast milk and mixed-effect logistic regression to identify predictors of the presence of Pb and Cd.

Results: As was the element most frequently detected in milk samples (97.1%), followed by Hg (81.2%), Pb (50.6%), and Cd (38.0%). Their median breast milk concentrations were 1.49 μg/L, 0.26 μg/L, 0.14 μg/L, and <0.04 μg/L, respectively. Concentrations of As were higher in breast milk from primiparous donors, while Hg was higher in donors with a greater intake of fatty fish and meat and lower in samples collected after a longer post-partum time and with higher lactose content. Detection of Pb was higher among multiparous donors, those gaining weight since before pregnancy, and ex-smokers and was lower in samples collected more recently and from donors with greater intake of red meat and eggs. Cd detection was higher for donors with university education and those with greater intake of fried and canned food and more frequent use of hand cream and was lower for donors with greater bread intake.

Conclusions: These findings reveal relatively high As concentrations, moderate Hg concentrations, and low Pb and Cd concentrations in pooled donor breast milk. Several factors including post-partum time, parity, smoking habit, and the intake of certain food items were associated with the metal content of milk samples.

Keywords: Arsenic; Breast milk; Cadmium; Lead; Mercury; Toxic metals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arsenic* / analysis
  • Cadmium / analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lead
  • Mercury* / analysis
  • Milk, Human / chemistry
  • Pregnancy
  • Spain


  • Cadmium
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Arsenic