Determinants of polychlorinated biphenyls and methylmercury exposure in inuit women of childbearing age

Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Sep;109(9):957-63. doi: 10.1289/ehp.01109957.


The objectives of this study were to to identify maternal characteristics associated with traditional food consumption and to examine food items associated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and mercury body burden in pregnant Inuit women from Northern Québec. We interviewed women from three communities at mid-pregnancy and at 1 and 11 months postpartum. We measured PCBs, Hg, and selenium in maternal blood; Hg was also measured in maternal hair. The women reported eating significant amounts of fish, beluga muktuk/fat, seal meat, and seal fat. Although consumption of fish and seal was associated with lower socioeconomic status, consumption of beluga whale was uniform across strata. Fish and seal meat consumption was associated with increased Hg concentrations in hair. Traditional food intake during pregnancy was unrelated to PCB body burden, which is more a function of lifetime consumption. This study corroborated previous findings relating marine mammal and fish consumption to increased Hg and selenium body burden. Despite widespread knowledge regarding the presence of these contaminants in traditional foods, a large proportion of Inuit women increased their consumption of these foods during pregnancy, primarily because of pregnancy-related changes in food preferences and the belief that these foods are beneficial during pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Body Burden
  • Diet*
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Female
  • Fishes
  • Food Contamination*
  • Humans
  • Lead / analysis
  • Methylmercury Compounds / analysis*
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / analysis*
  • Pregnancy
  • Seals, Earless
  • Selenium / analysis
  • Social Class
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Methylmercury Compounds
  • Lead
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls
  • Selenium