in Chinese Womens’ Breast Milk
(Beyond Pesticides, July 25, 2005) The results of the study, "A review on the usage of POP pesticides in China, with emphasis on DDT loadings in human milk," published in the journal Chemosphere ( Vol. 20, No. 6), show that Hong Kong women have high levels of DDT in their breast milk.
The researchers at Hong Kong's Baptist University tested the breastmilk and fatty tissue from the abdomens of 37 Hong Kong mothers. They found an average of 2.79 micrograms of DDT per gram of fat in Hong Kong mothers who were tested, far exceeding levels found in places such as Japan (0.78), Italy (1.98) and the United States (2.52). The situation was only worse in China (7.6) and Mexico (5.66).
DDT developed during WWII has historically been used for malaria, typhus, and other insect born disease control. DDT persists in the environment since it is not metabolized by animals, but rather builds up in fatty tissues. It has been banned in the United States since the 1970s. The widespread use of DDT contributed to insect resistance and threatened wildlife, notably the bald eagle and brown pelican populations. After the ban the populations of these birds has soared. Recent studies have shown exposure to DDT has been linked to breast cancer, decreased fertility, underweight and premature births.
DDT has been banned in China since 1983. Researchers suspect that the high levels of DDT in this study may be attributed to illegal uses of DDT or eating fish that have accumulated DDT in their fatty tissue. The women who consumed more fish also had higher levels of DDT.
This study adds to the growing evidence supporting the proliferation of pesticides and other chemicals in our bodies. The Third National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found metabolites of permethrin, cypermethrin, deltamethrin, chlorpyrifos, methyl and ethyl parathion, 2,4-D, lindane, chlordane, 2,5-dichlorophenol (moth balls) and DDT in more than 50% of the subjects tested. Another study, Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns, recently published by the Environmental Working Group found levels of pesticides and other industrial chemicals in umbilical cord blood.
The study of these Hong Kong women highlights the potential transfer of toxic chemicals from mother to child through breast milk and the need for further investigation of the hazards of these chemical loads in the human body, as well as the need for restrictions on the use of similar pesticides.