French studies find dioxin risk to babies

National exposure review reveals dioxin levels in new-born babies over 20 times recommended limit

The dioxin intake of French new-born, breast-fed babies is well above international recommended levels, according to two reports. In studies published last week, France's national environment agency, food safety authority (Afssa) and an official health organisation (INVS) claim that babies between one and three months old are exposed to average levels of dioxin as high as 83.6 picograms per kilogram (pg/kg) of fat per day. The World Health Organisation (WHO) maximum limit is 4 pg/kg per day, with an ultimate objective of 1 pg/kg.

The reports are likely to fuel fears over population exposure to dioxins - a family of toxic chlorinated chemicals that are produced as by-products of combustion processes such as waste incineration. Last month, the US environmental protection agency suggested that human health risks from dioxins were higher than previously thought (ENDS Daily 13 June).

According to the French studies, only very young babies are exposed to dioxin levels above international norms. By seven months, dioxin levels have fallen to nearly a quarter, while infants aged between 13 and 18 months absorb amounts well below the WHO limit. The reports' authors argue that key contributing factors for breast-fed babies are fat levels in a mother's diet, smoking, and local environment. Babies fed with commercially-produced milk are exposed to a minimal dioxin risk.

According to the reports, France's adult population is subject to average dioxin levels of 1.3pc/kg per day. Two years ago, environment minister Dominique Voynet ordered the closure of three municipal waste incinerators after high dioxin levels were discovered in milk from local cows (ENDS Daily 29 January 1998). Environmental groups have claimed similar contamination of French beef (ENDS Daily 27 May 1998).

Follow Up:
French environment agency, tel: +33 1 41 20 41 20; Afssa, tel: +33 1 49 77 13 50; INVS, tel: +33 1 41 79 67 00. See also the report on general dioxin threat to French population and report on dioxin risks from mothers' milk, plus WHO dioxin intake recommendations.

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