When writer Florence Williams was nursing her second child, she read a research study about toxins found in human breast milk. She decided to test her own breast milk and shipped a sample to a lab in Germany. What came back surprised her. Trace amounts of pesticides, dioxin and a jet fuel ingredient — as well as high to average levels of flame retardants — were all found in her breast milk. How could something like this happen? “It turns out that our breasts are almost like sponges, the way they can soak up some of these chemicals, especially the ones that are fat-loving — the ones [that] tend to accumulate in fat tissue,” Williams tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “Unfortunately, the breast is also masterful at converting these molecules into food in the way of breast milk.” Learning that breasts soak up lots of chemicals made Williams wonder just what else was going on with breasts. A lot, as it turns out. In her new book, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History, Williams offers her take on — among other things — why breasts are getting bigger and developing earlier, why tumors seem to gravitate toward the breast, and how toxins from the environment may be affecting hormones and breast development. MORE
Combat advisors have been vital actors in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as they train indigenous security forces to fight their own conflicts. Our guest, OWEN WEST, a third-generation Marine, says military advising is a task many generals don’t understand, as he led a small group of U.S. reservists, Marines and Iraqi soldiers in 2006-2007, in the city of Khalidya, in the Anbar Province, during a particularly violent peak in the Iraq War. The Ivy League-educated West served two tours in Iraq on leaves-of-absence from his energy-trading job at Goldman Sachs to fight with and train these troops with a varied background of military training. Owen’s personal account of this mission is his third book, “The Snake Eaters,” and his first work of nonfiction.