Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Breast Milk: Findings of a New Study and Policies Needed to Protect Future Generations

June 30, 2021
1:00 pm US Eastern Time

Slides & Resources


Erika Schreder, Amina Salamova, and Sheela Sathyanarayana: PFAS in Breast Milk from the United States.


Guomao Zheng, Erika Schreder, Jennifer C. DempseyNancy UdingValerie ChuGabriel AndresSheela Sathyanarayana, and Amina Salamova(2021). Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Breast Milk: Concerning Trends for Current-Use PFASEnviron. Sci. Technol. 55(11): 7510–7520. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.0c06978.

Listen to audio recording here or view video recording here.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been used in textiles, cookware, and food packaging for stain and stick resistance for more than eighty years. The dispersive use of PFAS in firefighting foams used on airports and military bases has contaminated the drinking water of millions of people around the world. Today, these compounds are widespread in our environment, the foods we eat, and in our bodies.

Studies have linked PFAS exposure in humans to weakened immune systems, certain cancers, thyroid disease, and increased cholesterol. Despite this, this class of ‘forever chemicals’ has few regulations globally or in the USA, and those that do exist permit far greater levels of PFAS exposure than current research findings deem safe.

A new study in the US (and the focus of this webinar) found phased-out and current-use PFAS in the breast milk of all 50 mothers who provided samples. These findings highlight the exposure and health risk for mothers as well as their nursing infants.

The authors also analyzed global data of PFAS in breast milk, finding that some current-use PFAS, billed as safer non-bioaccumulative alternatives, are in fact increasing in abundance in humans. These findings support the growing need for government and industry to address PFAS as a class rather than risk future regrettable substitutions.

In Alaska, the risk of PFAS exposure is heightened by decades of use of PFAS-containing firefighting foams at airports and military bases, releases from these facilities, and PFAS contamination of essential water supplies throughout the state.  The investigative report on PFAS by Alaska Community Action on Toxics identified more than 100 individual PFAS source areas at nearly 30 locations across Alaska (see ACAT’s 2019 report below).

To help protect future generations, we urgently need comprehensive state and federal policies to end unnecessary uses of PFAS. In the Alaska State Legislature, bills have been introduced by Sen. Jesse Kiehl and Rep. Sara Hannan, Senate Bill 121 and House Bill 171, to establish enforceable drinking water standards, phase out the use of PFAS in firefighting foam, and provide testing and safe water sources for communities affected by PFAS contamination.  At the federal level, a number of bills have been introduced to protect drinking water and contaminated communities, prevent firefighter exposures, provide funding for remediation; and regulate PFAS in food packaging, textiles, personal care products, and firefighting foams.  

Please join this call with the authors of the new scientific study that investigated PFAS in the breast milk of mothers in the Seattle area and a discussion of how the latest science might inform prevention-based public policies on PFAS. The authors note that “while we know that PFAS chemicals may be harmful, it is important to remember that breast milk provides significant benefits to newborn and child health. Breast milk is still best for newborns.”

Featured Speakers

Erika Schreder, Science Director at Toxic-Free Future

Erika Schreder obtained an M.S. from the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan and a B.S. in biology from MIT. She leads Toxic-Free Future’s research program, which focuses on exploring the uses of toxic chemicals in products. Research topics have included tracing the path of toxic chemicals from the home to waterways, measuring the impact on exposure of removing flame retardants from products, and biomonitoring for BPA, phthalates, and other chemicals.

Amina Salamova, PhD Associate Scientist at O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University

Dr. Salamova received her Ph.D. in Environmental Science from Indiana University in 2011 and was a post-doctoral research associate from 2011-2014.  Dr. Salamova uses analytical chemistry and novel exposure assessment tools to investigate environmental exposures to harmful chemical contaminants and their effects on human health.  She specifically focuses on exposures to a large group of organic contaminants, semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), in vulnerable populations, such as children, older adults, indigenous and rural communities.  Dr. Salamova’s research interests focus on determining exposure sources of well-known and emerging SVOCs and on developing effective interventions to prevent or reduce these exposures.  Her research is funded by the United States National Institutes of Health, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Agriculture.

Sheela Sathyanarayana MD, MPH, Attending Physician at Seattle Children's Hospital & Adjunct Associate Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Washington

Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana's research interests focus on exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals including phthalates and bisphenol A and their impact on reproductive development. Dr. Sathyanarayana serves as the center director for The Infant Development and Environment Study and is MPI of the NIH funded center grant: Prenatal And early Childhood Pathways To Health (PATHWAYS) that examines phthalates, air pollution, and maternal stress during the prenatal period and child health outcomes. She served as past chair of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee and as well as on the National Academies of Sciences, National Research Council Committee on Endocrine-Related Low Dose Toxicity. She currently serves on the US EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board for the Toxics Substances Control Act.
This call was hosted by the CHE-Alaska Partnership, which is coordinated by Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT). It  lasted for 60 minutes and was recorded for the call and webinar archive.