Biological Trace Element Research

, Volume 187, Issue 1, pp 32–40 | Cite as

Mercury, Lead, Cadmium, and Barium Levels in Human Breast Milk and Factors Affecting Their Concentrations in Hamadan, Iran

  • Aliasghar Vahidinia
  • Fateme Samiee
  • Javad Faradmal
  • Alireza Rahmani
  • Masoumeh Taravati Javad
  • Mostafa LeiliEmail author


Breast milk is considered the best source of nutrition for all infants. However, exposure of newborns to toxic metals is of special interest due to their potential harmful effects. Thus, the primary aims of this study were to determine the concentration of toxic heavy metals including lead, mercury, cadmium, and barium in breast milk samples from Hamadan, Iran, in relation to some sociodemographic variables. A total of 100 breast milk samples were collected and their heavy metal contents were measured by inductively coupled plasma mass spectroscopy (ICP-MS). The median breast milk concentrations of Pb, Hg, and Ba were 41.9, 2.8, and 1.95 μg/L, respectively. Cd levels were < 1 μg/L in all samples. The Pb level in 94% of the samples was higher than the recommended Pb limit of < 5 μg/L in breast milk suggested by World Health Organization (WHO). Hg levels in 54% of the breast milk samples were higher than the normal mean concentration (1.7 μg/L) suggested by WHO. We found no correlation between Hg levels in breast milk and sociodemographic factors. Ba levels in all the breast milk samples were lower than the WHO’s proposed health-based drinking water guideline (0.7 mg/L). Considering the results of the present study and the vulnerability of infants, along with the well-known toxicity of these metals, further studies are warranted to identify the main sources of exposure that contribute their concentration in breast milk, establish harmless intake values of toxic metals in breast milk, and develop preventive measures.


Toxic metals Lead Mercury Cadmium Barium Breast milk 



The authors are grateful to the lactating mothers who volunteered to participate in the study. We thank K. Shashok (AuthorAID in the Eastern Mediterranean) for improving the use of English in the manuscript.

Funding Information

This project was financially supported by the School of Public Health, Hamadan University of Medical Sciences (Grant number: 960115301).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

The protocol and ethics of this study were approved by the Ethics Committee of Hamadan University of Medical Science. Breastfeeding mothers provided their informed written consent, agreed to provide samples, and received no payment for their participation.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Nutrition Sciences, Nutrition Health Research Center, School of MedicineHamadan University of Medical SciencesHamadanIran
  2. 2.Department of Environmental Health Engineering, Research Center for Health Sciences, School of Public HealthHamadan University of Medical SciencesHamadanIran
  3. 3.Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, Modeling of Noncommunicable Diseases Research Center, School of Public HealthHamadan University of Medical SciencesHamadanIran
  4. 4.Department of Midwifery, Faculty of Nursing and MidwiferyHamadan University of Medical SciencesHamadanIran

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