Breast milk becoming contaminated — CSIR

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Breast milk, which is deemed the most hygienic and nutritious food for babies, is becoming contaminated from chemicals found in e-waste and plastics.


A research by the Water Research Institute (WRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has revealed that the harmful chemicals found in plastics, electricity transformers, paints, capacitors and from bad disposal of electronic waste cause birth defects.

They also cause cancers, as well as defective neuro-development in children, among other things.

Dr Kwadwo Ansong Asante, a Senior Scientist at the CSIR, made this known when briefing his fellow scientists during an internal seminar on the research in Accra yesterday.

The research assessed levels of halogenated contaminants in human breast milk in Ghana.

Some of the analyses were done in Japan.

Halogenates consist of brominates flame retardants (BRFRs) such as polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDEs) and hexabromocyclododecanes (HBCDs) which are widely used in polymers and consumer products to minimise the extent of fire or slow down combustion of these materials.

The other is polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs), which also contaminates the environment and is used in hydraulic fluids, insulating oil for electricity transformers, capacitors, plasticisers, adhesives and paints. Plasticisers are added to make plastic products soft.

Dr Asante explained that the research, which was done at the various e-waste points in Accra, Kumasi and Tamale, indicated that due to the poor disposal of such chemicals, they found their way into the food of some mothers.

“Estimated hazard quotient via human milk showed that all the PCBS values exceeded the threshold of one, indicating potential health risk for newborns,” he said.

Dr Asante said although breastfeeding should be encouraged because of the well-documented benefits, efforts must be made to lower contaminants in breast milk, so that protective measures would be initiated to avoid potential harmful effects to the newborn.

He said although Ghana did not produce PBCBs, the illegal and uncontrolled usage of PCB oils also known as “dirty oil” and obsolete equipment should be of concern as potential sources.

He said they were also in high quantities during the disposal of e–waste and also contaminated water from textile coating and production of insulation boards.

Another research revealed that pollution from the burning of e-waste at Agbogbloshie was highly cancerous through inhalation and skin contact.

Mr Samuel Obiri, another scientist with the CSIR made the revelation when he presented another finding on “Human health risk assessment as a result of exposure to e-waste at Agbogbloshie Scrap yard, Ghana”.

He said the cansogenic substances were released into the water bodies which run to the sea, thereby contaminating the fish in the sea and those who took such fish were prone to cancer and children would also have very low intelligent quotient.

He said the worst affected were those who undertook recycling of materials through burning, and added that they were seriously susceptible to cancers.

Mr Obiri said the entire test conducted indicated that the level of pollution in the area and its surroundings far exceeded World Health Organisation (WHO) permissive levels.

Source: Donald Ato Dapatem

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