Organochlorine pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls in human adipose tissue

Rev Environ Contam Toxicol. 1991;120:1-82. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4612-3080-9_1.


Halogenated organic compounds are highly lipophilic chemicals that are persistent in the environment as a result of their use and chemical stability. Some of these compounds are also present in the environment as metabolites or oxidation products of a parent compound or as by-products formed in the production of chlorinated compounds. Chronic exposure to the general population results mainly through the food chain. Because they are lipophilic, and because many are metabolized slowly, these chemicals tend to concentrate in body fat tissue. This contribution has described these halogenated organic compounds, discussed their use, regulation and prohibition throughout the world, and reviewed published studies on the levels of these chemicals found in the adipose tissue of humans and animals. For many years, residues of halogenated organic compounds have been detected in the human adipose tissue of individuals in a number of countries, including those in Europe, Asia, and Africa, as well as in the U.S. The levels detected have been used as an index of the level of general population exposure of these compounds over time. Over the past two decades, most countries have observed a steady decline of this level of exposure, reflecting a reduction in the use of these compounds, restrictions on or banning of their use, and a corresponding decrease in their environmental levels. The levels of concentrations vary from chemical to chemical as well as from isomer to isomer. Since the use of aldrin and dieldrin has now been banned or restricted in the U.S. and a number of other countries, residue levels have slowly decreased. Mean values in human adipose tissue in the U.S. and some foreign countries ranged from 0.04 to 0.40 ppm for dieldrin. Aldrin was detected only in Argentina and Poland in the 1970s and endrin was not detected anywhere at anytime. By 1978, all products containing BHC registered in the U.S. has been either discontinued or reformulated to incorporate lindane rather than BHC. The potential for exposure to BHC is virtually nonexistent in the U.S.; however, exposure to lindane is possible since products containing this chemical are still marketed, and used particularly in the manufacture of human medicine. DDT was banned for agricultural purposes in the U.S. in 1972, although it is still used elsewhere for public health vector control. Since the decline in use of DDT, however, the average levels of concentration have also declined. Heptachlor, chlordane, and trans-nonachlor (a component of both heptachlor and chlordane) are chlorinated cyclodienes.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Insecticides / analysis*
  • Pesticide Residues / analysis*
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / analysis*


  • Insecticides
  • Pesticide Residues
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls