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Environ Health Perspect. 1999 January; 107(1): 45–51.
PMCID: PMC1566290
Research Article

Dietary exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxins from infancy until adulthood: A comparison between breast-feeding, toddler, and long-term exposure.


Food is the major source for polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) and dioxin accumulation in the human body. Therefore, investigating food habits from early ages until reproductive age (25 years) is important in order to assess exposure risk for the next generation. The objective of this study was to assess the PCB/dioxin exposure and the relative contribution of different foods to total exposure during preschool age. Particularly, the importance of lactational PCB/dioxin exposure vs. dietary exposure until adulthood was investigated. A cohort of 207 children was studied from birth until preschool age. Based on 3 planar PCBs and 17 2,3,7,8-substituted dibenzo-para-dioxins (PCDDs) and dibenzofurans (PCDFs) measured in breast milk, a model was developed to calculate the cumulative toxic equivalent (TEQ) intake during breast-feeding (0-1 year). In 3. 5-year-old children, daily dietary intake of planar PCB-TEQ and dioxin-TEQ was measured with a validated food questionnaire. Cumulative TEQ intake from 1 to 5 years was estimated using the PCB- and dioxin-TEQ intake measured with the food questionnaire. Cumulative TEQ intake from 6 to 25 years was estimated using national food consumption and contamination data of PCB- and dioxin-TEQ intake. In toddlers, dairy products contributed 43% to PCB-TEQ and 50% to dioxin-TEQ intake. Meat and meat products contributed 14% and 19%, respectively, and processed foods 23% and 15%, respectively. Breast-feeding for 6 months contributed to the cumulative PCB/dioxin TEQ intake until 25 years of age, 12% in boys and 14% in girls. The daily TEQ intake per kilogram body weight is 50 times higher in breast-fed infants and three times higher in toddlers than in adults. Long-term dietary exposure to PCBs and dioxins in men and women is partly due to breast-feeding (12 and 14%, respectively). After weaning, dairy products, processed foods, and meat are major contributors of PCB and dioxin accumulation until reproductive age. Instead of discouraging breast-feeding, maternal transfer of PCBs and dioxins to the next generation must be avoided by enforcement of strict regulations for PCB and dioxin discharge and by reducing consumption of animal products and processed foods in all ages.

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Selected References

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