National WIC Association

Statement on PFAS Study

May 18, 2021

On Thursday, May 13, 2021, researchers published a study that found elevated levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in breastmilk.

Recognizing that PFAS were identified in all breastmilk samples, the original study had a sample size of 50 women thus making it a small sample size that should not be extrapolated to the American population without additional study on larger groups. A study co-author stated, “While we know that PFAS chemicals may be harmful, it is important to remember that breast milk provides significant benefits to newborns and child health. Breast milk is still best for newborns.” Therefore, this study reveals that despite attempts to reduce PFAS, these substances continue to accumulate in the body revealing the necessity of continued focus on replacing PFAS with safer alternatives and removing them from the environment.

These findings represent a broader public health concern, to reduce PFAS. Extending far beyond the scope of the study, PFAS have been found in drinking water and household items (microwave popcorn bags, nonstick cookware, water-resistant clothing, cleaning products, shampoo, dental floss, and cosmetics) for decades.

Fortunately, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking action on the matter. Earlier this year, the Agency announced a two-pronged approach to address PFAS-contaminated water including:

  • Re-proposing the Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5) to collect additional data on PFAS in drinking water
  • Re-issuing final regulatory determinations under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) for two PFAS – perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS).

The National WIC Association (NWA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) agree that breastfeeding remains safe. AAP has stated that “even though a number of environmental pollutants readily pass to the infant through human milk, the advantages of breastfeeding continue to greatly outweigh the potential risks in nearly every circumstance.”

For the sake of public health, NWA calls on manufacturers to take responsibility for the chemicals placed in common household items.

Check out this resource from AAP on how to limit your child's exposure to these substances.