Volatile organic compounds in human milk: Methods and measurements

Sung R. Kim, Rolf U. Halden, Timothy J. Buckley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


The present study was conducted to optimize methods for measurement of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by use of headspace solid-phase microextraction (HS-SPME) and to provide a preliminary assessment of levels in human milk. MTBE (methyl tert-butyl ether), chloroform, benzene, and toluene were measured from two sources of milk: a North Carolina milk bank (n = 5) and multiple samples from three women within nonsmoking households in inner-city Baltimore, MD (n = 8). In Baltimore, indoor air VOC concentrations in the respective households were also measured by active sampling and thermal desorption gas chromatography/mass spectrometry in selective ion monitoring (GC/MS/SIM) over each of the 3 days of milk collection. By application of these optimized methods, we observed median VOC concentrations in Baltimore human milk of 0.09, 0.55, 0.12, and 0.46 ng/mL for MTBE, chloroform, benzene, and toluene, respectively. For benzene, toluene, and MTBE, milk levels trended with observed indoor air concentrations. On the basis of measured concentrations in air and milk, infant average daily dose by inhalation exceeded ingestion rates by 25-135-fold. Thus, VOC exposure from breast milk is vastly exceeded by that from indoor air in nonsmoking households. Accordingly, strategies to mitigate infant VOC exposure should focus on the indoor air inhalation pathway of exposure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1662-1667
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 1 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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