Host and environmental determinants of polychlorinated aromatic hydrocarbons in serum of adolescents

Environ Health Perspect. 2002 Jun;110(6):583-9. doi: 10.1289/ehp.02110583.


This study investigated host factors and environmental factors as potential determinants of polychlorinated aromatic hydrocarbons (PCAHs) in serum of adolescents. We recruited 200 participants (80 boys and 120 girls), with a mean age of 17.4 years (SD, 0.8), in Belgium from a rural control area (Peer) and from two polluted suburbs of Antwerp where a nonferrous smelter (Hoboken) and waste incinerators (Wilrijk) are located. We quantified polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs; congeners 138, 153, and 180) in serum by gas chromatography and obtained the toxic equivalents (TEQs) of PCAHs in serum with the chemically activated luciferase gene expression bioassay (CALUX). Serum PCB concentration was higher in boys than in girls (1.67 vs. 1.02 nmol/L or 377 vs. 210 pmol/g serum lipids; p< 0.001). In the whole adolescent group, multiple regression showed that serum PCB concentration decreased 0.06 nmol/L per 1% increase in body fat content (p< 0.001) and increased 0.39 nmol/L and 0.14 nmol/L per 1 mmol/L increase in serum concentrations of triglycerides (p < 0.001) and cholesterol (p = 0.002), respectively. Host factors explained 44% of the serum PCB variance. In the same model, serum PCB concentration increased 0.14 nmol/L with 10 weeks of breast-feeding (p< 0.001) and 0.06 nmol/L with intake of 10 g animal fat per day (p < 0.001), and was associated with residence in the waste incinerator area (9% higher; p = 0.04); 11% of the variance could be explained by these environmental factors. The geometric mean of the serum TEQ value was similar in boys and girls (0.15 TEQ ng/L or 33.0 pg/g serum lipids). In multiple regression, TEQ in serum decreased 0.03 ng/L per centimeter increase in triceps skinfold (p = 0.006) and was 29% higher in subjects living close to the nonferrous smelter (p < 0.001). This study showed that in 16- to 18-year-old teenagers host factors are important determinants of serum concentrations of PCAHs, whereas environmentally related determinants may to some extent contribute independently to human exposure to these persistent chemicals in the environment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / chemistry
  • Adolescent
  • Air Pollutants / blood*
  • Breast Feeding
  • Dietary Fats
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated / blood*
  • Incineration
  • Male
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / blood*
  • Refuse Disposal
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sex Factors


  • Air Pollutants
  • Dietary Fats
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons