Long-term effects of polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxins on pregnancy outcomes in women affected by the Yusho incident

Environ Health Perspect. 2008 May;116(5):626-30. doi: 10.1289/ehp.10686.


Background: Maternal exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) is associated with increased proportions of spontaneous abortion and stillbirth in animal studies. In Japan in 1968, accidental human exposure to rice oil contaminated with PCBs and other dioxin-related compounds, such as polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs), led to the development of what was later referred to as Yusho oil disease.

Objective: The aim of this study was to investigate the association of maternal PCB and dioxin exposure with adverse pregnancy outcomes in Yusho women.

Methods: In 2004, we interviewed 214 Yusho women (512 pregnancies) about their pregnancy outcomes over the past 36 years. Pregnancy outcomes included induced abortion, spontaneous abortion, preterm delivery, and pregnancy loss.

Results: In pregnancy years 1968-1977 (within the first 10 years after exposure), the proportions of induced abortion [odds ratio adjusted for age at delivery (ORadj) = 5.93; 95% confidence interval (CI), 2.21-15.91; two-tailed p < 0.001) and preterm delivery (ORadj = 5.70; 95% CI, 1.17-27.79; p = 0.03) were significantly increased compared with the proportions in pregnancy years 1958-1967 (10 years before the incident). Spontaneous abortion (ORadj = 2.09; 95% CI, 0.84-5.18), and pregnancy loss (ORadj = 2.11; 95% CI, 0.92-4.87) were more frequent (OR = 2.18; 95% CI, 1.02-4.66), but these were not significant (p = 0.11 and p = 0.08, respectively) in pregnancy years 1968-1977. We found no significant increases in the proportions of these adverse pregnancy outcomes in pregnancies occurring during 1978-1987 or 1988-2003 compared with those in pregnancies before 1968.

Conclusion: High levels of PCB/PCDF exposure had some adverse effects on pregnancy outcome in Yusho women.

Keywords: Yusho; dioxin; environmental exposure; pregnancy loss; preterm delivery; spontaneous abortion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Dioxins / analysis
  • Dioxins / toxicity*
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Japan
  • Maternal Exposure
  • Middle Aged
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / analysis
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Time Factors


  • Dioxins
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls