What is body burden testing?

Body burden testing is a way to find out what toxic chemicals we have in our bodies.

Toxic chemicals, both naturally occurring and man-made, often get into the human body. We may inhale them, ingest them in contaminated food, house dust, or water, or absorb them through our skin. A woman who is pregnant may pass them to her developing fetus through the placenta, and nursing mothers can pass them to their children through breastmilk. “Body burden” refers to the total amount of these chemicals present in the human body at a given point in time and is measured by testing samples of blood, breastmilk, or urine using sensitive laboratory techniques.

Do all people carry this chemical body burden?

Scientists estimate that everyone alive today has hundreds of contaminants in their body, most of which have not been well studied.  This is true whether we live in a rural or isolated area, in the middle of a large city, or near an industrialized area. Our bodies have no alternative but to absorb these chemicals and sometimes store them for long periods of time.

Are there special health effects for children?

Developing or immature tissues are far more susceptible to chemical exposures than adult tissues. Since development is a time of very rapid replication and differentiation of cells, it is also a time of special vulnerability.

This means that the developing fetus, infant, or child may suffer harmful impacts from relatively small exposures that have no apparent impacts on adults. Unfortunately, many chemicals found in everyday products have not had enough testing to understand whether or not they might harm a fetus or child.

What is this study about?

Toxic Free Future and Indiana University are studying our exposure to toxic chemicals found in furniture, electronics, carpets, and other products in by measuring their levels in breastmilk.

We will be looking for chemicals found in products in our homes and workplaces, and sometimes present in our house dust, food, water, and indoor air. They include flame retardants used in many kinds of products, plasticizers, and harmful nonstick chemicals known as PFAS.

How common is this testing?

Several governments have active programs to test blood, breastmilk, and urine for toxic chemicals.  In the 1990s,  it was the Swedish government’s breastmilk testing that alerted health officials to the quickly rising levels of toxic flame retardants.  This information led to a ban on the flame retardants known as PBDEs.  Similarly, in 2003 a U.S. study conducted by the non-profit group Environmental Working Group found unheard of levels of PBDEs in the breastmilk of American women, leading to an EPA agreement to phase out the manufacture of two forms of PBDEs.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began a nationwide program of biomonitoring in the 1990s. Through that program, the CDC has shown that many children were exposed to certain pesticides at levels higher than what EPA considers safe, and and that children’s lead levels have declined as lead has been removed from gasoline.  The CDC samples blood and urine from thousands of Americans on a biennial basis and issues regular reports of its findings.

Why is breastmilk used for body burden monitoring?

Some persistent chemicals tend to concentrate in breastmilk. Breastmilk monitoring is a relatively non-invasive means of measuring the level of chemicals in a nursing mother. Body burden data also can provide an estimate of the chemical concentrations to which the infant was exposed during gestation.

Note: Breastfeeding is still the best option for your baby

Breastmilk is still the best food that you can give your baby. Studies show that breastfed babies are healthier, and breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the impacts of in utero exposure to chemicals. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children who are not breastfed have more respiratory infections and diarrhea, and are more likely to develop diabetes and certain cancers as well as to become overweight or obese. AAP recommends breastfeeding for at least the first year of a child’s life. By promoting breastmilk monitoring programs and working to identify chemical contaminants in breastmilk, we hope to maintain breastmilk as the precious resource that it is, and to promote healthy breastfeeding practices.

For more information on specific chemicals, visit toxicfreefuture.org/science/chemicals-of-concern/

Interested in participating in the study? Fill out this form and we’ll be in touch with more information: toxicfreefuture.org/seeking-participants-for-the-healthy-moms-healthy-kids-study/