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Baby Formula - Higher Arsenic Risk than Breast Milk

  • Published: 2015-02-23 : Author: Dartmouth College : Contact: John Cramer -
  • Synopsis: Study of urinary arsenic in babies found formula-fed infants had higher arsenic levels than breast-fed infants, and breast milk contained very low arsenic concentrations.

A chemical element with symbol As and atomic number 33. Arsenic occurs in many minerals, usually in conjunction with sulfur and metals, and also as a pure elemental crystal. Arsenic is a metalloid. It can exist in various allotropes, although only the gray form has important use in industry. Arsenic is a natural element found in soil and minerals. Arsenic compounds are used to preserve wood, as pesticides, and in some industries. Arsenic can get into air, water, and the ground from wind-blown dust. It may also get into water from runoff. Arsenic is known to cause cancer, as well as many other serious health problems. Most arsenic compounds have no smell or taste, so usually you can't tell if arsenic is in your air, food, or water.

Main Document

"This study's results highlight that breastfeeding can reduce arsenic exposure even at the relatively low levels of arsenic typically experienced in the United States."

In the first U.S. study of urinary arsenic in babies, Dartmouth College researchers found that formula-fed infants had higher arsenic levels than breast-fed infants, and that breast milk itself contained very low arsenic concentrations.

The findings appear Feb. 23 online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. A PDF is available on request.

The researchers measured arsenic in home tap water, urine from 72 six-week-old infants and breast milk from nine women in New Hampshire.

Urinary arsenic was 7.5 times lower for breast-fed than formula-fed infants.

The highest tap water arsenic concentrations far exceeded the arsenic concentrations in powdered formulas, but for the majority of the study's participants, both the powder and water contributed to exposure.

"This study's results highlight that breastfeeding can reduce arsenic exposure even at the relatively low levels of arsenic typically experienced in the United States," says lead author Professor Kathryn Cottingham. "This is an important public health benefit of breastfeeding."

Arsenic occurs naturally in bedrock and is a common global contaminant of well water.

It causes cancers and other diseases, and early-life exposure has been associated with increased fetal mortality, decreased birth weight and diminished cognitive function.

The Environmental Protection Agency has set a maximum contaminant level for public drinking water, but private well water is not subject to regulation and is the primary water source in many rural parts of the United States.

"We advise families with private wells to have their tap water tested for arsenic," says senior author Professor Margaret Karagas, principal investigator at Dartmouth's Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Center.

Added study co-lead author Courtney Carignan: "We predict that population-wide arsenic exposure will increase during the second part of the first year of life as the prevalence of formula-feeding increases."

Facts: Arsenic in U.S. Water

In the United States, arsenic is most commonly found in the ground waters of the southwest. Parts of New England, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Dakotas are also known to have significant concentrations of arsenic in ground water. Increased levels of skin cancer have been associated with arsenic exposure in Wisconsin, even at levels below the 10 part per billion drinking water standard. According to a recent film funded by the US Superfund, millions of private wells have unknown arsenic levels, and in some areas of the US, over 20% of wells may contain levels that exceed established limits.

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