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

Yelim Park, Aram Lee, Kyungho Choi, Hai Joong Kim, Jeong Jae Lee, Gyuyeon Choi, Sungjoo Kim, Su Young Kim, Geum Joon Cho, Eunsook Suh, Sung Koo Kim, So Hee Eun, Soyong Eom, Seunghyo Kim, Gun Ha Kim, Hyo Bang Moon, Sungkyoon Kim, Sooran Choi, Young Don Kim, Jinho KimJeongim Park

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    33 Citations (Scopus)


    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 30 days after delivery (n = 207). Mercury was detected from 100% of breastmilk with a median concentration of 0.59 μg/L, and lead was detected in 77% of the samples with a median at 4.71 μg/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 15 days old infants and 56% of 30 days 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.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)876-883
    Number of pages8
    JournalScience of the Total Environment
    Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jan 15

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    We would like to express our gratitude to the participating mothers in the Children's Health and Environmental Chemicals in Korea (CHECK) Cohort for their great effort in collecting breastmilk samples. This study was funded by the Korea Ministry of Environment (MOE) as “the Environmental Health Action Program (1 485014467 )” and supported by Soonchunhyang University research grant in 2014.

    Publisher Copyright:
    © 2017 Elsevier B.V.


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

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Environmental Engineering
    • Environmental Chemistry
    • Waste Management and Disposal
    • Pollution


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