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Sci Total Environ. 2018 Jan 15;612:876-883. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.08.079. Epub 2017 Sep 5.

Exposure to lead and mercury through breastfeeding during the first month of life: A CHECK cohort study.

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College of Natural Sciences, Soonchunhyang University, Asan, Republic of Korea; Chemtopia, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
College of Natural Sciences, Soonchunhyang University, Asan, Republic of Korea.
School of Public Health, Seoul National University, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
College of Medicine, Korea University, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
College of Medicine, Soonchunhyang University, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
College of Medicine, Hallym University, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
College of Medicine, Jeju National University, Jeju, Republic of Korea.
College of Medicine, Yonsei University, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
Department of Marine Sciences and Convergent Technology, Hanyang University, Ansan, Republic of Korea.
College of Medicine, Inha University, Inchoen, Republic of Korea.
School of Medicine, Sungkyunkwan University, Changwon, Republic of Korea.
Hankook General Hospital, Cheongju, Republic of Korea.
College of Natural Sciences, Soonchunhyang University, Asan, Republic of Korea. Electronic address:


Mercury and lead are naturally occurring toxicants and are responsible for various health issues including neurobehavioral and developmental disorders. Because of crucial synchronized developmental processes occurring at the early stage of life, infancy and childhood are considered as among the most susceptible windows to the exposure to these metals. Breastmilk is often the only source of nutrition during the first months of life. As breastmilk can be contaminated with these metals, breastfeeding may serve as a significant route of heavy metal exposure among infants. In order to understand current levels of exposure to mercury and lead through breastfeeding, and their associated risks, a total of 157 lactating mothers were recruited from Children's Health and Environmental Chemicals of Korea (CHECK) cohort, and breastmilk samples were collected at 15 and 30days after delivery (n=207). Mercury was detected from 100% of breastmilk with a median concentration of 0.59μg/L, and lead was detected in 77% of the samples with a median at 4.71μg/L. Higher concentrations of lead were found in the 30- day breastmilk than in the 15-day. Up to 45% of the breastmilk samples exceeded the normal range of the breastmilk lead suggested by WHO. Based on Monte Carlo simulation, about 71% of 15days old infants and 56% of 30days old infants were estimated at risk due to lead exposure through breastfeeding. Considering vulnerability of infants and well-known neurological toxicity of these metals, further studies to identify major exposure sources that contribute the lead concentration in breastmilk and health implication of early life stage exposure to lead among the breastfed infants are warranted.


Breastmilk; CHECK; Daily intake; Lead; Mercury; Probabilistic risk estimation

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