Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of envhperEnvironmental Health PerspectivesBrowse ArticlesAbout EHPGeneral InformationAuthorsMediaProgramsPartnerships
Environ Health Perspect. 2003 July; 111(9): 1253–1258.
PMCID: PMC1241583
Research Article

Assessment of pre- and postnatal exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls: lessons from the Inuit Cohort Study.


Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are food-chain contaminants that have been shown to induce adverse developmental effects in humans. In the course of an epidemiologic study established to investigate neurodevelopmental deficits induced by environmental PCB exposure in the Inuit population of northern Québec (Nunavik, Canada), we compared three biomarkers of prenatal exposure and models to predict PCB plasma concentration at 6 months postpartum. Concentrations of 14 PCB congeners were measured by high-resolution gas chromatography with electron capture detection in lipids extracted from maternal plasma, cord plasma, breast milk (collected at approximately 1 month postpartum), and 6-month-old infant plasma samples. Similar congener profiles were observed in all biologic samples, and PCB-153, the most abundant and persistent PCB congener, was strongly correlated with other frequently detected PCB congeners in all biologic media. When expressed on a lipid basis, maternal plasma, cord plasma, and milk concentrations of this congener were strongly intercorrelated, indicating that PCB concentration in any of these biologic media is a good indicator of prenatal exposure to PCBs. A multivariate model that included maternal PCB-153 plasma lipid concentration, breast-feeding duration, and the sum of two skin-fold thicknesses (an index of infant body fat mass) explained 72% of PCB-153 plasma concentration variance at 6 months postpartum (p < 0.001). By contrast, based on the product of breast-feeding duration times the concentration of PCBs in plasma lipids, which was used as an index of postnatal PCB exposure in several studies, only 36% of infant plasma concentration was explained.

Full Text

The Full Text of this article is available as a PDF (262K).

Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
  • Ayotte P, Carrier G, Dewailly E. Health risk assessment for inuit newborns exposed to dioxin-like compounds through breast feeding. Chemosphere. 1996 Feb;32(3):531–542. [PubMed]
  • Barrie LA, Gregor D, Hargrave B, Lake R, Muir D, Shearer R, Tracey B, Bidleman T. Arctic contaminants: sources, occurrence and pathways. Sci Total Environ. 1992 Jul 15;122(1-2):1–74. [PubMed]
  • Bjerregaard P, Hansen JC. Organochlorines and heavy metals in pregnant women from the Disko Bay area in Greenland. Sci Total Environ. 2000 Jan 17;245(1-3):195–202. [PubMed]
  • Darvill T, Lonky E, Reihman J, Stewart P, Pagano J. Prenatal exposure to PCBs and infant performance on the fagan test of infant intelligence. Neurotoxicology. 2000 Dec;21(6):1029–1038. [PubMed]
  • DeKoning EP, Karmaus W. PCB exposure in utero and via breast milk. A review. J Expo Anal Environ Epidemiol. 2000 May-Jun;10(3):285–293. [PubMed]
  • Dewailly E, Ayotte P, Bruneau S, Laliberté C, Muir DC, Norstrom RJ. Inuit exposure to organochlorines through the aquatic food chain in arctic québec. Environ Health Perspect. 1993 Dec;101(7):618–620. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Fein GG, Jacobson JL, Jacobson SW, Schwartz PM, Dowler JK. Prenatal exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls: effects on birth size and gestational age. J Pediatr. 1984 Aug;105(2):315–320. [PubMed]
  • Gladen BC, Rogan WJ, Hardy P, Thullen J, Tingelstad J, Tully M. Development after exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls and dichlorodiphenyl dichloroethene transplacentally and through human milk. J Pediatr. 1988 Dec;113(6):991–995. [PubMed]
  • Huisman M, Koopman-Esseboom C, Fidler V, Hadders-Algra M, van der Paauw CG, Tuinstra LG, Weisglas-Kuperus N, Sauer PJ, Touwen BC, Boersma ER. Perinatal exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxins and its effect on neonatal neurological development. Early Hum Dev. 1995 Apr 14;41(2):111–127. [PubMed]
  • Huisman M, Koopman-Esseboom C, Lanting CI, van der Paauw CG, Tuinstra LG, Fidler V, Weisglas-Kuperus N, Sauer PJ, Boersma ER, Touwen BC. Neurological condition in 18-month-old children perinatally exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxins. Early Hum Dev. 1995 Oct 2;43(2):165–176. [PubMed]
  • Jacobson JL, Fein GG, Jacobson SW, Schwartz PM, Dowler JK. The transfer of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) across the human placenta and into maternal milk. Am J Public Health. 1984 Apr;74(4):378–379. [PubMed]
  • Jacobson JL, Humphrey HE, Jacobson SW, Schantz SL, Mullin MD, Welch R. Determinants of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), and dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane (DDT) levels in the sera of young children. Am J Public Health. 1989 Oct;79(10):1401–1404. [PubMed]
  • Jacobson JL, Jacobson SW. Intellectual impairment in children exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls in utero. N Engl J Med. 1996 Sep 12;335(11):783–789. [PubMed]
  • Jacobson JL, Jacobson SW, Humphrey HE. Effects of exposure to PCBs and related compounds on growth and activity in children. Neurotoxicol Teratol. 1990 Jul-Aug;12(4):319–326. [PubMed]
  • Jacobson SW, Fein GG, Jacobson JL, Schwartz PM, Dowler JK. The effect of intrauterine PCB exposure on visual recognition memory. Child Dev. 1985 Aug;56(4):853–860. [PubMed]
  • Karmaus W, DeKoning EP, Kruse H, Witten J, Osius N. Early childhood determinants of organochlorine concentrations in school-aged children. Pediatr Res. 2001 Sep;50(3):331–336. [PubMed]
  • Koopman-Esseboom C, Weisglas-Kuperus N, de Ridder MA, Van der Paauw CG, Tuinstra LG, Sauer PJ. Effects of polychlorinated biphenyl/dioxin exposure and feeding type on infants' mental and psychomotor development. Pediatrics. 1996 May;97(5):700–706. [PubMed]
  • Lanting CI, Fidler V, Huisman M, Boersma ER. Determinants of polychlorinated biphenyl levels in plasma from 42-month-old children. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 1998 Jul;35(1):135–139. [PubMed]
  • Longnecker Matthew P, Wolff Mary S, Gladen Beth C, Brock John W, Grandjean Philippe, Jacobson Joseph L, Korrick Susan A, Rogan Walter J, Weisglas-Kuperus Nynke, Hertz-Picciotto Irva, et al. Comparison of polychlorinated biphenyl levels across studies of human neurodevelopment. Environ Health Perspect. 2003 Jan;111(1):65–70. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Macdonal RW, Barrie LA, Bidleman TF, Diamond ML, Gregor DJ, Semkin RG, Strachan WM, Li YF, Wania F, Alaee M, et al. Contaminants in the Canadian Arctic: 5 years of progress in understanding sources, occurrence and pathways. Sci Total Environ. 2000 Jun 1;254(2-3):93–234. [PubMed]
  • Muckle G, Ayotte P, Dewailly E, Jacobson SW, Jacobson JL. Determinants of polychlorinated biphenyls and methylmercury exposure in inuit women of childbearing age. Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Sep;109(9):957–963. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Muir DC, Wagemann R, Hargrave BT, Thomas DJ, Peakall DB, Norstrom RJ. Arctic marine ecosystem contamination. Sci Total Environ. 1992 Jul 15;122(1-2):75–134. [PubMed]
  • Norstrom RJ, Muir DC. Chlorinated hydrocarbon contaminants in arctic marine mammals. Sci Total Environ. 1994 Sep 16;154(2-3):107–128. [PubMed]
  • Patandin S, Koopman-Esseboom C, de Ridder MA, Weisglas-Kuperus N, Sauer PJ. Effects of environmental exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxins on birth size and growth in Dutch children. Pediatr Res. 1998 Oct;44(4):538–545. [PubMed]
  • Patandin S, Lanting CI, Mulder PG, Boersma ER, Sauer PJ, Weisglas-Kuperus N. Effects of environmental exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxins on cognitive abilities in Dutch children at 42 months of age. J Pediatr. 1999 Jan;134(1):33–41. [PubMed]
  • Patandin S, Weisglas-Kuperus N, de Ridder MA, Koopman-Esseboom C, van Staveren WA, van der Paauw CG, Sauer PJ. Plasma polychlorinated biphenyl levels in Dutch preschool children either breast-fed or formula-fed during infancy. Am J Public Health. 1997 Oct;87(10):1711–1714. [PubMed]
  • Phillips DL, Pirkle JL, Burse VW, Bernert JT, Jr, Henderson LO, Needham LL. Chlorinated hydrocarbon levels in human serum: effects of fasting and feeding. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 1989 Jul-Aug;18(4):495–500. [PubMed]
  • Rhainds M, Levallois P, Dewailly E, Ayotte P. Lead, mercury, and organochlorine compound levels in cord blood in Québec, Canada. Arch Environ Health. 1999 Jan-Feb;54(1):40–47. [PubMed]
  • Ribas-Fitó N, Sala M, Kogevinas M, Sunyer J. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and neurological development in children: a systematic review. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2001 Aug;55(8):537–546. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Rogan WJ, Gladen BC. PCBs, DDE, and child development at 18 and 24 months. Ann Epidemiol. 1991 Aug;1(5):407–413. [PubMed]
  • Rogan WJ, Gladen BC, McKinney JD, Carreras N, Hardy P, Thullen J, Tinglestad J, Tully M. Neonatal effects of transplacental exposure to PCBs and DDE. J Pediatr. 1986 Aug;109(2):335–341. [PubMed]
  • Skaare JU, Tuveng JM, Sande HA. Organochlorine pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls in maternal adipose tissue, blood, milk, and cord blood from mothers and their infants living in Norway. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 1988 Jan;17(1):55–63. [PubMed]
  • Stewart P, Reihman J, Lonky E, Darvill T, Pagano J. Prenatal PCB exposure and neonatal behavioral assessment scale (NBAS) performance. Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2000 Jan-Feb;22(1):21–29. [PubMed]
  • Takayama M, Itoh S, Nagasaki T, Tanimizu I. A new enzymatic method for determination of serum choline-containing phospholipids. Clin Chim Acta. 1977 Aug 15;79(1):93–98. [PubMed]
  • Walkowiak J, Wiener JA, Fastabend A, Heinzow B, Krämer U, Schmidt E, Steingrüber HJ, Wundram S, Winneke G. Environmental exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls and quality of the home environment: effects on psychodevelopment in early childhood. Lancet. 2001 Nov 10;358(9293):1602–1607. [PubMed]

Articles from Environmental Health Perspectives are provided here courtesy of National Institute of Environmental Health Science