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Environ Health Perspect. Sep 2000; 108(9): 895–900.
PMCID: PMC2556932
Research Article
Identification of phthalate esters in the serum of young Puerto Rican girls with premature breast development.
I Colón, D Caro, C J Bourdony, and O Rosario
Department of Chemistry, University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico, USA.
Abstract
Premature breast development (thelarche) is the growth of mammary tissue in girls younger than 8 years of age without other manifestations of puberty. Puerto Rico has the highest known incidence of premature thelarche ever reported. In the last two decades since this serious public health anomaly has been observed, no explanation for this phenomenon has been found. Some organic pollutants, including pesticides and some plasticizers, can disrupt normal sexual development in wildlife, and many of these have been widely used in Puerto Rico. This investigation was designed to identify pollutants in the serum of Puerto Rican girls with premature thelarche. A method for blood serum analysis was optimized and validated using pesticides and phthalate esters as model compounds of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Recovery was > 80% for all compounds. We performed final detection by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. We analyzed 41 serum samples from thelarche patients and 35 control samples. No pesticides or their metabolite residues were detected in the serum of the study or control subjects. Significantly high levels of phthalates [dimethyl, diethyl, dibutyl, and di-(2-ethylhexyl)] and its major metabolite mono-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate were identified in 28 (68%) samples from thelarche patients. Of the control samples analyzed, only one showed significant levels of di-isooctyl phthalate. The phthalates that we identified have been classified as endocrine disruptors. This study suggests a possible association between plasticizers with known estrogenic and antiandrogenic activity and the cause of premature breast development in a human female population.
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