"Healthy Milk, Healthy Baby: Chemical Pollution and Mother's Milk"

Web clearinghouse encourages breastfeeding and urges international action to help reduce chemicals in breast milk

(NEW YORK) May 22, 2001- NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council), today launched a new web-based clearinghouse, "Healthy milk, healthy baby: chemical pollution and mother's milk," aimed at educating parents about chemicals in breast milk. The site provides research information on the effectiveness of environmental regulations in reducing levels of these chemicals, called Persistent Organic Pollutants, or POPs, in mothers' milk. It also includes information for mothers on how to avoid exposure to hazardous chemicals and urges them to take action to encourage ratification by the U.S. Senate of an international treaty banning the production and use of specific hazardous chemicals.

"Studies over the last 25 years have proved that as polluting chemicals have built up in our environment, they have invaded the most natural and healthful of all sources of nourishment -- mother's milk," said Gina Solomon, M.D., a senior scientist at NRDC. "It is a phenomenon of the chemical age, something our grandmothers never had to face. Our comprehensive web-based clearinghouse provides information about the benefits of breastfeeding and educates parents about chemicals that can be a health concern."

The web clearinghouse, which can be found at http://www.nrdc.org/breastmilk/, is intended to help parents sort through the information quickly and easily so that they can make informed, healthy decisions. It is a gateway to studies on chemicals found in breast milk and to advice on how to ensure a healthy baby. It also offers suggestions for users on political action they can take to help ensure that their children's children won't face chemical hazards in the future.

The site was launched as representatives of an estimated 120 countries, including the United States, gather in Stockholm today to sign an international treaty banning the production and use of specific hazardous chemicals. Some of these chemicals find their way into breast milk.

Dr. Solomon noted that the treaty is a significant step in the effort to keep breast milk healthy because chemical bans can dramatically reduce the levels of pollution in the environment, and in turn, in breast-milk. The POPs treaty bans several harmful chemicals found in breast-milk and establishes a process to add others to its list of banned pollutants. According to Dr. Solomon, POPs are particularly troubling because they persist in the environment for many years, attaching themselves to fatty deposits and accumulating over time. Since the body draws on fatty tissue to produce mother's milk, POPs can eventually work their way from mother to infant.

"The good news is that we've come a long way in reducing harmful chemicals in the environment, and therefore, in breast milk," Dr. Solomon said. "PCBs, DDT metabolites and even dioxin levels have all decreased over the years in many countries, largely because of strong environmental regulations, including bans or restrictions. But some pollutants persist in our environment, others are on the rise, and many are not even being tested-for. Our goal is to get back to healthy, chemical-free breast-milk by encouraging parents to join the campaign to eradicate these chemicals through ratification of the treaty."

The one set of chemicals that is on the rise, according to NRDC's research, is the brominated flame-retardants, known by the chemical name polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). These chemicals are widely used in textiles and electronic equipment. When dumped into the environment, the PBDEs persist and accumulate in food, just like the older POPs that are subject to the international treaty. Swedish data shows that these chemicals are beginning to rise in breast-milk samples. This demonstrates the need to take action to prevent further human exposure. Detection of this group of chemicals also demonstrates the need for a breast milk-monitoring program that can detect chemicals in breast-milk before they become a major problem.