Health Risk Assessment of Trace Metals Through Breast Milk Consumption in Saudi Arabia.


Al-Saleh I(1).
Author information:
(1)Environmental Health Program, King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre, PO Box: 3354, Riyadh, 11211, Saudi Arabia. [Email]


We previously measured the levels of inorganic mercury, methylmercury, lead, cadmium, and manganese in the breast milk of 203 healthy Saudi mothers who participated in a cross-sectional study between 2011 and 2013. The current study aimed to (1) calculate reference values (RVs) for these metals in breast milk based on the 95th percentile of the metal and the corresponding 95% confidence interval following the approach of the German Human Biomonitoring Commission, and (2) assess the health risk associated with these metals (except lead) by determining the hazard quotient (HQ) and hazard index (HI) for breastfed infants. The risk characterization for the lead was applied using the margin of exposure (MOE) approach. Moreover, the cancer risk (CR) associated with lead was calculated. The RV95s (percentage of samples for which the value was higher than the set value) for inorganic mercury, methylmercury, total mercury, cadmium, lead, and manganese in breast milk (μg/L) were 1.5 (7.9%), 1.5 (5.4%), 2.8 (8.9%), 2.5 (8.4%), 53 (11.3%), and 22.3 (11.8%) μg/L, respectively. The methylmercury, lead, and manganese levels in the present study were higher than those reported previously. The HQ for methylmercury greater than 1 was found in 68.5% of the samples, indicating there may be a potential non-carcinogenic health risk of infant exposure to the toxic metal via breast milk consumption. Despite the high cadmium and manganese levels in breast milk, our results suggested no health risk (HQ < 1). The HI representing the combined non-carcinogenic health risk of four metals was > 1, with methylmercury (74%) being the major contributor. The estimated MOE mean value of 0.134, less than 1, indicates that our breastfed infants may be at increased risk of neurodevelopmental impairments. The CR for lead in two infants was higher than the acceptable level of 1 × 10-4. Although our results may suggest potential carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic risks of infant exposure to toxic metals through breast milk consumption, the benefits of breastfeeding are well recognized and outweigh the potential risks.