Re ECF Project: 2011-32

Project Title: Persistent Organic Pollutants in Human Breast Milk

Applicant: Prof. WONG Tze Wai, School of Public Health and Primary Care, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Total Approved Grant: $ 577,700

Duration: 15/11/2012 to 14/02/2014

Project Status/Remarks: Completed

This project seeks to:

  • determine the average levels of the “new” Stockholm Convention POPs in the milk samples of new mothers in Hong Kong, and thus understand the extent of the problem caused by these pollutants; and
  • investigate whether the mothers’ dietary habits have any effect on these levels.

Summary of the Findings/Outcomes:
We utilized milk samples obtained from a survey of 219 primiparous mothers in 2009 to test for the presence of new persistent organic pollutants: hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH), pentachlorobenzene (PeCB), chlordecone, polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), including perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorooctane sulfonyl fluoride (PFOS-F), and perflurooctanoic acid (PFOA). 158 samples were pooled according to the mothers’ age, length of stay in Hong Kong, and their dietary habits (frequencies of intake of fish and other seafood, and milk and dairy products) and tested for chlordecone, PBDEs, PBBs and PFCs. All were present in our samples. Their mean and median concentrations are very high compared to findings in other countries. HCH and PeCB were tested in 73 individual samples and their mean levels were of the same order of magnitude as those reported in our previous study. The levels of PBDEs were positively associated with dietary intake of fish and other seafood, and to a lesser extent, milk and dairy products. It is important to confirm the validity of our results, as the presence of these newer POPs in breast milk might have adverse consequences on the health of breastfed infants.