Human milk biomonitoring data: Interpretation and risk assessment issues

Judy S. LaKind, Robert L. Brent, Michael L. Dourson, Sam Kacew, Gideon Koren, Babasaheb Sonawane, Anita J. Tarzian, Kathleen Uhl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Biomonitoring data can, under certain conditions, be used to describe potential risks to human health (for example, blood lead levels used to determine children's neurodevelopmental risk). At present, there are very few chemical exposures at low levels for which sufficient data exist to state with confidence the link between levels of environmental chemicals in a person's body and his or her risk of adverse health effects. Human milk biomonitoring presents additional complications. Human milk can be used to obtain information on both the levels of environmental chemicals in the mother and her infant's exposure to an environmental chemical. However, in terms of the health of the mother, there are little to no extant data that can be used to link levels of most environmental chemicals in human milk to a particular health outcome in the mother. This is because, traditionally, risks are estimated based on dose, rather than on levels of environmental chemicals in the body, and the relationship between dose and human tissue levels is complex. On the other hand, for the infant, some information on dose is available because the infant is exposed to environmental chemicals in milk as a "dose" from which risk estimates can be derived. However, the traditional risk assessment approach is not designed to consider the benefits to the infant associated with breastfeeding and is complicated by the relatively short-term exposures to the infant from breastfeeding. A further complexity derives from the addition of in utero exposures, which complicates interpretation of epidemiological research on health outcomes of breastfeeding infants. Thus, the concept of "risk assessment" as it applies to human milk biomonitoring is not straightforward, and methodologies for undertaking this type of assessment have not yet been fully developed. This article describes the deliberations of the panel convened for the Technical Workshop on Human Milk Surveillance and Biomonitoring for Environmental Chemicals in the United States, held at the Hershey Medical Center, Pennsylvania State College of Medicine, on several issues related to risk assessment and human milk biomonitoring. Discussion of these topics and the thoughts and conclusions of the panel are described in this article. Copyright

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1713-1769
Number of pages57
JournalJournal of Toxicology and Environmental Health - Part A: Current Issues
Issue number20
StatePublished - 22 Oct 2005
Externally publishedYes


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