Relation of a seafood diet to mercury, selenium, arsenic, and polychlorinated biphenyl and other organochlorine concentrations in human milk

Environ Res. 1995 Oct;71(1):29-38. doi: 10.1006/enrs.1995.1064.


Human transition milk was sampled from 88 mothers at the Faroe Islands, where the seafood diet includes pilot whale meat and blubber. Milk mercury concentrations (median, 2.45 micrograms/liter) were significantly associated with mercury concentrations in cord blood and with the frequency of pilot whale dinners during pregnancy. Milk selenium concentrations (mean, 19.1 micrograms/liter) correlated significantly with concentrations in cord blood but not with seafood consumption. Arsenic concentrations were very low. Twenty-four of the milk samples were separated into four pools based on fish intake and milk mercury concentrations. The polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) concentrations (1.8-3.5 micrograms/g lipid) were high and mainly due to congener numbers 153, 180, and 138. One pool contained a congener 77 concentration of 1380 ppt, which is the highest ever reported in a human specimen for a coplanar PCB. The highest PCB concentrations were seen in the pools from women who had eaten frequent whale dinners and whose milk contained high mercury concentrations. The concentrations of chlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and furans were not similarly elevated. Given the advantages associated with breast-feeding, advice to nursing mothers in this population should take into regard the possible risks associated with long-term exposure to milk contaminants.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Arsenic / analysis
  • Diet*
  • Female
  • Fetal Blood / chemistry
  • Fishes
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated / analysis*
  • Meat*
  • Mercury / analysis
  • Metals / analysis*
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / analysis*
  • Pregnancy
  • Selenium / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis
  • Whales


  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated
  • Metals
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls
  • Mercury
  • Selenium
  • Arsenic