Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 25, Issue 17, pp 16754–16766 | Cite as

The levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in human milk and exposure risk to breastfed infants in petrochemical industrialized Lanzhou Valley, Northwest China

  • Li Wang
  • Aiping Liu
  • Yuan Zhao
  • Xi Mu
  • Tao Huang
  • Hong Gao
  • Jianmin Ma
Research Article


We investigated in this paper the presence of PAHs in human milk from lactating women residing in Lanzhou, a petrochemical industrialized valley city in Northwest China. The PAH concentration levels in human milk samples from 98 healthy women were determined by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS). The associations between the lifestyle factors and the PAHs levels of human milk were analyzed. Moreover, we applied principal component analysis (PCA) method to gain a better insight into the similarities or dissimilarities of the human milk PAH loads and different pathways of source exposure. In addition, the exposure risks of breastfed infants due to PAH ingestion via breast milk were assessed and the relative breast-feeding risk to the total intake dose of infants was addressed. The results showed that the average fat-normalized human milk ∑15PAHs concentrations for the lactating women residing in four districts of Lanzhou, namely, Xigu, Anning, Qilihe, and Chengguan were 320.40, 270.36, 374.04, and 259.84 ng/g of fat, respectively. The ∑15PAHs of human milk from the lactating women of Qilihe District exhibited the highest concentration level, while the concentration level for women from Xigu District is the second highest for the observed human milk ∑15PAHs. And the corresponding BaPeq concentrations for women in Xigu, Anning, Qilihe, and Chengguan districts were 58.29, 47.95, 65.13, and 45.60 ng/g of fat, respectively. A significant correlation was only found between human milk and living district environment (p < 0.05). Although the Spearman correlation analysis showed that there were no significant correlation existing between other lifestyle and human milk PAHs, we confirmed that consuming barbecue food could elevate PAHs levels in human milk: the barbecue intake frequency caused 10% fluctuation of ∑15PAHs concentration between high frequency and low frequency group in our study. Furthermore, the exposure to second-hand smoke can also increase the ∑15PAHs levels in human milk by 4 to 11% here. Ingestion doses of PAHs by infants (19.37–77.75 ng kg−1 day−1) were much higher than the inhalation doses (2.83–16.48 ng kg−1 day−1), which indicated that the ingestion is the main exposure risk pathway for infants. Since there are limited guidelines and standards for PAHs ingestion dose in human milk by infant, we compared the ingestion dose of BaP with the upper bound estimates of BaP dietary exposure of 108 ng kg−1 day−1 for toddlers of ages between 1.5 and 2.5 years of age in the UK reported by Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food (COT) and the data we obtained were lower than this upper bound. However, the estimated margin of exposure (MOE) values of BaP-MOE, PAH2-MOE, PAH4-MOE, and PAH8-MOE were smaller than 10,000 which indicated that there are potential hazard for breastfed infants consuming these human milk samples.


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) Human milk Principal component analysis (PCA) Lanzhou Valley 



This research was supported by National Science Foundation of China (grants 41671460, 41371453, and 41503089), Key Project of Gansu Province People’s Livelihood Science and Technology (grants 1503FCMA003), and Fundamental Research Funds for the Central University (nos. lzujbky-2016-249 and lzujbky-2016-253).

Supplementary material

11356_2018_1799_MOESM1_ESM.docx (27 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 26 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Key Laboratory for Environmental Pollution Prediction and Control, Gansu Province, College of Earth and Environmental SciencesLanzhou UniversityLanzhouChina
  2. 2.Gansu Provincial Maternity and Child-care HospitalLanzhouChina
  3. 3.Laboratory for Earth Surface Processes, College of Urban and Environmental SciencesPeking UniversityBeijingChina

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