Inadvertent exposure to organochlorine pesticides DDT and derivatives in people from the Canary Islands (Spain)

Sci Total Environ. 2005 Mar 1;339(1-3):49-62. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2004.07.022.


In 1998, one of the largest determinations of organochlorine pesticides in a representative sample of a Spanish population (682 serum samples from the Canary Islands) was made in the context of the "Canary Islands Nutrition Survey" (ENCA). In the Canary Islands, extensive farming areas have been developed in these last decades, with greenhouses dedicated to intensive cultivation using DDT in huge amounts. In Spain, similarly to other European countries, DDT was banned in the late 1970s. The pesticide residues in human serum are indicative of past and present exposure to them. Our objective is to point out the differences of pesticide contamination between islands; and together with this, if a connection could be established with gender, age, or habitat of subjects. Concentration of selected persistent organochlorine pollutants (p,p'-DDT, o,p'-DDT, p,p'-DDE, o,p'-DDE, p,p'-DDD, and o,p'-DDD) was measured with gas chromatography-electron capture detector. Almost all of the samples (99.3%) presented detectable levels of some DDT-derivatives, being p,p'-DDE the most frequently detected organochlorine. The median concentration of total DDT body burden, expressed in ng/g fat, present in the Canary Islands (370 ng/g fat) was similar to that found in other European countries, although it was noteworthy that a fourth of the population showed a total DDT body burden higher than 715 ng/g. Interestingly, statistical significant differences were found in serum levels of organochlorine pesticides between islands, being these levels higher in people from Tenerife and Gran Canaria (415 and 612 ng/g fat, respectively), the islands that present both highest population and highest surface devoted to intensive agriculture. As expected, serum levels of both total DDT body burden and p,p'-DDE increased with age. Statistically significant differences were also found in relation to gender, women showing higher levels of these organochlorine pesticides than men. One of the most relevant findings of this work is the presence of a very high DDT/DDE ratio in people from the Canary Islands, thus indicating a chronic exposure to DDT that persists nowadays. DDT and its derivatives are considered as xenoestrogens, and they have been linked to breast cancer. Having into account that the Canary Islands present high incidence and mortality for breast cancer, our results point to the possibility that these environmental contaminants may be playing a determining role that must be investigated in detail. The high levels of DDT and its derivatives in serum from people living in this Archipelago should be considered a matter of public health concern.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Chromatography, Gas
  • DDT / analysis*
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene / analysis*
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated / analysis*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pesticides / analysis*
  • Spain


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated
  • Pesticides
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene
  • DDT