French studies find dioxin risk to babies

A national exposure review by French environment and energy management agency Ademe has revealed dioxin levels in new-born babies over 20 times the recommended limit.

The exposure of French infants to dioxins was measured in two studies using levels found in mothers’ milk.

The two studies were undertaken by the Institut de Veille Sanitaire (InVS) in collaboration with Ademe and the French equivalent of MAFF. They examined the levels of dioxins and furans found in mothers’ milk and found these to be 16.5 picogrammes per gramme of fat, comparable to levels found in a Europe-wide WHO study. Lactating mothers were chosen for the study because mothers’ milk is an international reference indicator for dioxins, and provides a good idea of the general distribution of dioxins because of their affinity with fats.

Whereas the general population have been exposed to levels of 1,3pg/kg of body weight per day compared to a maximum recommended exposure limit of 4pg/kg/day, and a WHO target of 1pg/kg/day, children between two and nine years of age were found to have slightly raised levels of 2.3pg/kg/day, although this figure remains below the overall WHO maximum.

In the case of babies, their reliance on milk products is believed to be at the root of their raised levels of dioxins. The level of 16.5pg/kg/day found in mother’s milk allowed the study to calculate that infants below the age of two who had been breast fed would be exposed, in the course of their first six months, to between 70 and 80pg/kg/day of dioxins, 20 times higher than WHO limits. This equates to 4% of the total dose absorbed during a lifetime, but Ademe reports that the figure puts France roughly in the middle of the European league in terms of dioxin exposure.

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