Improving measurement of pesticides in breast milk

Little is known about the exposure of infants to pesticides, despite their vulnerability and evidence of widespread dietary exposure among older children and adults. A study led by Emory Rollins School of Public Health researchers P. Barry Ryan, PhD, and Anne Riederer, ScD, seeks to improve methods for measuring pesticides in breast milk and infant formula.

“We really don’t know about how babies are exposed to pesticides in their everyday life,” says Riederer, assistant research professor, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. “There are very few published studies on this topic, and we’d like to be one of the groups that actually publishes an analytical method that can be used by researchers in any country to be able to detect these different types of pesticides in breast milk.”

Although the breast milk method will be pilot tested on samples collected from a birth cohort in Thailand, it will have broad applications for the U.S. population. Because these pesticides are widely distributed in the food supply, all U.S. infants are potentially exposed.

“We’re primarily interested in the development of young children from the prenatal phase all the way through maybe age six or so as they develop their neurocognitive abilities,” says Ryan, professor of exposure science and environmental chemistry, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. “We’re interested in pesticides in particular because they’re a known neurotoxicant. They’re various classes of pesticides, many of which are associated with developmental delay and loss of IQ.”

A valid method for measuring pesticide compounds in breast milk and formula would have a major impact on the ability of researchers to evaluate pesticide exposures in early life, contributing to an improved understanding of their longer-term health effects.

“One of our major objectives is to get one method that can capture all those different types [of pesticides] so that one sample can be analyzed during one run in the laboratory. We think this will save time and money for future researchers,” says Riederer.

The stimulus-funded project, “Validation & Pilot Testing of Methods for Assessing Infants’ Dietary Pesticide Exposure,” is supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

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