Researchers seek breast-feeding mothers to participate in study

By Casey Peacock: PNT Staff Writer

Representatives from the University of Texas at Arlington and Texas Tech University are conducting research in the area to determine the effects of perchlorate exposure to infants through ingestion of breast milk.

Research has shown that Roosevelt and Curry counties have tested positive for high levels of perchlorate in water, according to Andrea Kirk, UTA postdoctoral research fellow.

“Perchlorate is a highly water-soluble anion (particle with a negative charge) that is formed naturally in the environment and also synthesized for use in explosives, rocket fuel, fireworks and industrial applications,” Kirk said

The studies will compare women who live in areas having high levels of environmental perchlorate compared with those who live in areas with low levels, Kirk said.

Too much perchlorate can lead to insufficient iodide in the system, causing a person to develop hypothyroidism, Kirk said.

An adult who develops hypothyroidism can be treated, but the condition for an infant is more serious, Kirk said. A baby who was severely iodide deficient during fetal development could suffer from severe mental retardation or learning disabilities, hearing impairment and attention deficits, Kirk said.

“The degree of severity will depend on how long the baby was hypothyroid and on how much or little thyroid hormone was available,” Kirk said.

The problem with too much perchlorate is the body thinks it is iodide, which is an essential nutrient, Kirk said. The thyroid gland uses iodide to make thyroid hormones but prefers to use the perchlorate.

Portales resident Julia Woodruff recently completed participation in the study with her 1-year-old son Jeremiah. Woodruff, who holds a degree in chemistry and worked as a breast-feeding peer counselor for the WIC Office in Belen, was intrigued by the study.
Woodruff said she is conscious about what goes into her system that can be transferred through her breast milk.

“I’ll be interested to know how much perchlorate is in the water,” Woodruff said.

Two studies are being conducted: One that lasts 24 hours and a three-month study.

Kirk said she is looking for breast-feeding mothers to participate.

Participants in each study will be required to collect breast milk, urine and water samples, Kirk said.

All supplies will be provided by Kirk for the participants in the studies.

Participants will receive $50 for the 24-hour study and $150 for the longer one, Kirk said.

Kirk also stressed that residents should not panic about the findings but only to be cautious.

At a glance:

Fifteen to 20 volunteers are being sought from both the Portales and Clovis area to participate in the Breast Milk Study.

For more information on the study, contact Andrea Kirk at (817) 272-0442 or at akirk@uta.edu.

Newton Hilliard, associate professor of chemistry at Eastern New Mexico University, has agreed to be a local point of contact and authority for the study. Consent forms and sample kits may be obtained by contacting Hilliard at: 562-2463 or 562-2174.