by: S. L. Baker
For the study, during the fall and summer of 2004, 2005 and 2006, human milk was sampled from mothers who had given birth at the University Women's Hospital in Basel, Switzerland. The research participants also answered detailed questionnaires in order to document their use of different types of cosmetic products and sunscreens.
When the women's breast milk was analyzed, tests revealed the milk samples contained a huge list of chemicals including persistent organic pollutants (POPs), synthetic musk fragrances, pesticides, phthalates, parabens, flame retardants (polybrominated diphenylethers), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) — and cosmetic UV filters. What's more, the UV filter chemicals were surprisingly widespread; they were comparable in concentrations to PCBs, which have long been known to contaminate the environment.
"Research on the effects of endocrine disrupters (chemicals interfering with hormone actions) has shown that it is of utmost importance to obtain information on simultaneous exposure of humans to different types of chemicals because endocrine active chemicals can act in concert. Information on exposure is particularly important for the developing organism at its most sensitive early life stages. Human milk was chosen because it provides direct information on exposure of the suckling infant and indirect information on exposure of the mother during pregnancy," research team leaders Margret Schlumpf and Walter Lichtensteiger said in a media statement.
The analyzed data of the milk samples obtained from individual mothers were then compared with the information collected through the questionnaire about cosmetic and sunscreen use. While exposure patterns differed between individuals, Dr. Schlumpf, who is a scientist at the University of Zurich, pointed out that the total reported use of products containing UV filters was significantly correlated with the presence of those chemicals in breast milk.
In all, a total daily intake of each individual chemical found in the breast milk tests was calculated for each baby who was fed with breast milk. The results showed some infants were taking in daily amounts of PCBs and several pesticides that were far above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reference for supposed "acceptable" levels. Little is known about the health significance of babies drinking in UV filters through their mothers' milk.
In a statement to the media, the scientists noted that information on the relationship between the exposure of human populations to ingredients in cosmetics and sunscreens and the presence of these constituents in the human body has been sorely limited. And before the new Swiss research findings, the data on UV filters being present inside the human body was virtually non-existent.
"This study once again emphasizes the importance of global research on the impact of contaminants in the human environment and the need for continuous critical assessment of our priorities in environmental health and consumer habits. I am sure that this investigation will also spark debate at the upcoming first Environmental Health conference in Brazil, February 2011", Gert-Jan Geraeds, Executive Publisher of Chemosphere said in a press statement.