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Infant dioxin exposures reported high.

Infant dioxin exposures reported high

Nursing mothers in Western industrial nations are inadvertently passing on to their children a toxic-chemical legacy -- high levels of 2, 3, 7, 8-TCDD, the most toxic form of dioxin, according to new calculations by a team of researchers from five institutions in the United States and Canada.

They extrapolated their figures from the mean concentrations of TCDD that they and others, including the Environmental Protection Agency, recently measured in body fat from more than 1,100 people from widely scattered areas of North America. The researchers estimate that, through the fat in breast milk, nursing infants may be acquiring 1,300 times the daily dioxin exposure levels that the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended as being potentially acceptable for the general population. This apparent dose to infants is so high, according to study coordinator Arnold Schecter of the State University of New York at Binghamton, that children nursed for a year may be starting their lives with 18 times the lifetime exposure CDC considers potentially allowable (i.e., leading to an estimated 1 excess cancer per 1 million persons exposed).

Even more dramatic are the actual dioxin-in-breast-milk concentrations that the researchers have just measured in four samples acquired during the early 1970s in what was then South Vietnam. These milk samples, until recently stored in a freezer at Harvard University, are contaminated with 2 to 6.5 parts per trillion TCDD in fat. Like their chemical cousins, the furans and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins are stored in fat once they enter the body. They remain in the body until that fat is either burned or shed to a nursing infant via breast milk.

The Vietnamese breast milk measurements suggest that even after the wartime spraying of dioxin-contaminated herbicides (such as Agent Orange) ended, Vietnamese infants were potentially acquiring--in each year of breast feeding--at least 100 to 400 times CDC's estimated allowable lifetime dioxin dose, according to the researchers.

Schecter and his colleagues from Harvard Medical School in Boston, the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, the University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center and the Ottawa-based Health and Welfare Canada, caution that because the toxicity of dioxin in humans is still so poorly known, they cannot speculate on whether the dioxin levels they have calculated for breast milk warrant advocating that Western mothers forgo breast feeding. However, Schecter says, these new data do appear to justify the development of a well-controlled health-effects study comparing dioxin in North and South Vietnam--which their data indicate are probably the world's least and most dioxin-contaminated populations, respectively (SN: 7/13/85, p. 26).
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Author:Raloff, Janet
Publication:Science News
Date:Apr 26, 1986
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