Science News, August 8, 2008


[Rachel's introduction: A new study reveals that women who use a lot of perfume during pregnancy have high amounts of the synthetic musk HHCB in their milk. Levels of the musk AHTN are elevated in the milk of women who use perfumed laundry detergent.]

By Rachel Ehrenberg

Mothers pass many things on to their babies -- including chemicals from soaps and personal care products. A new study of Swedish moms finds that those who used scented laundry detergent or lots of perfume had elevated amounts of synthetic musks in their breast milk. How these synthetic musks act in the body still isn't clear, says study coauthor Anders Glynn of the Swedish National Food Administration and Uppsala University in Sweden. Scientists have found other fat-loving compounds in breast milk, including PCBs and certain pesticides with clearly detrimental health effects. While finding chemicals in breast milk raises concern about childhood exposure, most experts agree that the benefits of nursing still far outweigh the risks.

The new study, published online in Environmental Science & Technology, looked for trends in the amounts of seven synthetic musks in new moms' breast milk over a seven-year period. These artificial compounds give scent to many products and also act as longevity enhancers, or "carriers," for other smells. Manufacturers favor synthetics over natural musks, which are expensive and often come from endangered animals.

Previous research has documented synthetic musks in breast milk in women from the United States, Denmark and Germany, but this new work is the first to correlate quantities of musks with the women's product use. The team found that women who used a lot of perfume during pregnancy had high amounts of the musk HHCB in their milk. Levels of the musk AHTN were elevated in the milk of women who used perfumed laundry detergent.

The researchers also assessed infant exposure to three of the musks. Calculations suggest that Swedish breastfed infants are exposed to quantities similar to those reported in U.S. infants. These levels are well below the suggested tolerable amounts, which range from 7 to 500 micrograms per kilogram of body weight, depending on the musk. But Glynn and his colleagues note that the tolerable amounts were set for adults, so the comparison is questionable. Infants probably inhale and absorb these synthetic compounds through their skin, as well as getting the musks in milk, so total exposure to infants remains unknown, Glynn says.

Citations & References:

Sanna Lignell, Per Ola Darnerud, Marie Aune, Sven Cnattingius, Jana Hajslova, Lucie Setkova and Anders Glynn. 2008. Temporal Trends of Synthetic Musk Compounds in Mother's Milk and Associations with Personal Use of Perfumed Products. Environmental Science & Technology. Online ahead of print. DOI: 10.1021/es800626n

Reiner, J. L.; Wong, C. M.; Arcaro, K. F.; Kannan, K. 2007. Synthetic musk fragrances in human milk from the United States. Environmental Science & Technology. 41, 3815-3820. DOI: 10.1021/es063088a

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