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Environ Health Perspect. 2003 July; 111(9): 1235–1241.
PMCID: PMC1241580
Research Article

Human prenatal and postnatal exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers, polychlorinated biphenyls, polychlorobiphenylols, and pentachlorophenol.


The aim of this study was to determine human prenatal and postnatal exposures to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), hydroxylated metabolites of PCBs (polychlorobiphenylols; OH-PCBs), and pentachlorophenol (PCP). The median PBDE fresh-weight concentrations in maternal and cord blood plasma and in breast milk were 24, 4.3, and 75 pg/g, respectively. The PCB concentrations were approximately 60 times higher in each compartment (1,560, 277, and 4,310 pg/g, respectively). Calculated on a lipid weight basis, the levels were comparable in maternal blood plasma and breast milk. In contrast to PCBs, differences were found between PBDE congener distribution in maternal and cord blood plasma. The OH-PCBs constituted up to 26% of the PCB levels in maternal blood plasma and 53% in cord blood plasma, with levels of 120 and 88 pg/g fresh weight, respectively, and in breast milk 3 pg/g. The corresponding concentrations for PCP were 2,830, 1,960, and 20 pg/g. The ratios of PCB to OH-PCB were 13, 3, and 1,400 in maternal, cord plasma, and breast milk, respectively. It is evident that prenatal exposures occur for all the analytes. Moreover, the exposure continues after birth via breast milk. However, levels of OH-PCBs and PCP in breast milk are low compared with levels in blood plasma. Exposures to both PCBs and PBDEs, and in particular to the endocrine-active halogenated phenolic compounds, are of concern and implicate a potential risk for developmental disturbances.

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