The global distribution of PCBs and organochlorine pesticides in butter

Environ Sci Technol. 2001 Mar 15;35(6):1013-8. doi: 10.1021/es0002464.


In this study we explored the use of butter as a sampling matrix to reflect the regional and global scale distribution of PCBs and selected organochlorine pesticides/metabolites in air. This was because persistent organic pollutants (POPs) concentrate in dairy fats, where concentrations are controlled by feed intake (primarily from pasture/silage), which is in turn primarily controlled by atmospheric deposition. Butter sigmaPCB concentrations varied by a factor of approximately 60 in 63 samples from 23 countries. They were highest in European and North American butter and lowest in southern hemisphere (Australian, New Zealand) samples, consistent with known patterns of historical global usage and estimated emissions. Concentrations in butter reflected differences in the propensity of PCB congeners to undergo long range atmospheric transport from global source regions to remote areas and the relatively even distribution of HCB in the global atmosphere. Concentrations of p,p'-DDT, p,p'-DDE, and HCH isomers all varied over many orders of magnitude in the butter samples, with highest levels in areas of current use (e.g. India and south/central America for DDT; India, China, and Spain for HCH). We conclude that butter is sensitive to local, regional, and global scale spatial and temporal atmospheric trends of many POPs and may therefore provide a useful sampling medium for monitoring purposes. However, to improve the quantitative information derived on air concentrations requires an awareness of climatic and livestock management factors which influence air-milk fat transfer processes.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution / analysis
  • Animal Feed
  • Animals
  • Butter*
  • Cattle
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Humans
  • Pesticide Residues / analysis*
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / analysis*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Time Factors


  • Pesticide Residues
  • Butter
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls