Abstract Levels of polychlorinated dibenzo- p-dioxins (PCDDs) and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs) were measured in the breast milk of mothers living in Giugliano (Campania, Italy), an area at increased risk of PCDD and PCDF exposure caused by recent and serious open-air waste-combustion accidents. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in milk samples were also studied. Breast milk was also monitored in two cities in northern Italy, Milan and Piacenza, which were selected as controls. Other variables, such as diet and age of the mothers, were also studied. PCDD/F and PCB levels and congener profiles in breast-milk samples were similar in all these cities, though total PCDD/F and DL-PCB TEQs in samples from Giugliano were significantly lower than those in Milan and Piacenza (8.65 pg WHO-TEQ in Giugliano vs. 11.0 and 9.94 pg WHO-TEQ in Milan and Piacenza respectively). Thus no direct correlations were found between PCDD/F and PCB levels in breast milk and the suspected increased exposure through open-air waste combustion in Giugliano. Diet did not seem to affect PCDD/F and PCB levels, whereas a significant correlation was observed between the mother’s age and an increased concentration of PCDDs/Fs and PCBs in milk. Comparison of these findings with those of previous surveys in Italy in 2000–2001 showed a marked reduction of PCDD/F (about 60%) and DL-PCB (about 20%) levels in breast milk occurring over the last 10 years. This might well be a result of well functioning legislation, for example European Directives on of the reduction of the emission limits of PCDDs/Fs and PCBs from waste incineration set by EU Directive 2000/76/EC implemented in 2000, or Commission Regulations such as (EC) No. 466/2001 and 1881/2006 setting maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs.