Lead levels in the breast milk of nursing Andean mothers living in a lead-contaminated environment

UMMS Affiliation

Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center; Department of Pediatrics; Shriver Center

Publication Date


Document Type



Adolescent; Adult; Arsenic; Cadmium; Cohort Studies; Ecuador; Environmental Exposure; Female; Humans; Lactation; Lead; Mercury; Milk, Human; Mothers; Protoporphyrins; Young Adult


Environmental Public Health | Maternal and Child Health | Medical Toxicology | Public Health


Concentrations of lead (Pb) in breast milk (PbM) and blood (PbB) were measured in a current cohort of lactating mothers living in Andean communities where women of childbearing age engage in the occupational use of Pb, and compared to results obtained in earlier studies. Mean PbM concentration in the current group of breastfeeding mothers tested in 2012/2013 was 3.73 mug/L (SD: 7.3; range: 0.049-28.04), and significantly lower than the 9.83 mug/L (SD: 12.75; range: 0.2-49) previously observed in breastfeeding mothers in the study area from 1999 to 2007. Breastfeeding women in the current cohort showed an average PbM/PbB ratio of 3.6%, which is in agreement with other studies. The mean PbB level obtained for the current cohort was 7.8 mug/dl (SD: 5.2; range: 1.4-21), and significantly lower than the mean PbB level of 20.8 mug/dl (SD: 16.4; range: 4-73) obtained for the comparison group of breastfeeding mothers tested between 1999 and 2007. A correlation of .687 between paired PbM and maternal PbB was found, indicating that maternal PbB level is a significant predictor of PbM. Current PbM levels remain higher than international averages, but indicate that maternal Pb exposure has declined over time in the environmentally Pb-contaminated study area. The current reduction in Pb in milk and blood of breastfeeding mothers may be due to adherence to a Pb-exposure education and prevention program initiated by the authors in the study area years earlier, as well as recent improvements in local health care delivery.

DOI of Published Version



Counter SA, Buchanan LH, Ortega F, Chiriboga R, Correa R, Collaguaso MA. Lead levels in the breast milk of nursing andean mothers living in a lead-contaminated environment. J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2014;77(17):993-1003. doi: 10.1080/15287394.2014.897281. PubMed PMID: 25072821; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4373535. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Journal of toxicology and environmental health. Part A

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Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID