Serum concentrations of selected persistent organic pollutants in a sample of pregnant females and changes in their concentrations during gestation

Environ Health Perspect. 2009 Aug;117(8):1244-9. doi: 10.1289/ehp.0800105. Epub 2009 Mar 12.


Objectives: In this study we evaluated the concentrations of selected persistent organic pollutants in a sample of first-time pregnant females residing in the United States and assessed differences in these concentrations in all pregnant females during gestation.

Methods: We reviewed demographic and laboratory data for pregnant females participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, including concentrations of 25 polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), 6 polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs), 9 polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs), and 9 organochlorine pesticides. We report serum concentrations for first-time pregnant females (2001-2002; n = 49) and evaluate these concentrations in all pregnant females by trimester (1999-2002; n = 203) using a cross-sectional analysis.

Results: The chemicals with >or= 60% detection included PCBs (congeners 126, 138/158, 153, 180), PCDDs/PCDFs [1,2,3,4,6,7,8-heptachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (1234678HpCDD), 1,2,3,6,7,8-hexachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (123678HxCDD), 1,2,3,4,6,7,8-heptachlorodibenzofuran (1234678HpCDF), 1,1'-(2,2-dichloroethenylidene)-bis(4-chlorobenzene) (p,p'-DDE)], and trans-nonachlor. The geometric mean concentration (95% confidence intervals) for 1234678HpCDD was 15.9 pg/g lipid (5.0-50.6 pg/g); for 123678HxCDD, 9.7 pg/g (5.5-17.1 pg/g); and for 1234678HpCDF, 5.4 pg/g (3.3-8.7 pg/g). The differences in concentrations of these chemicals by trimester were better accounted for with the use of lipid-adjusted units than with whole-weight units; however, the increase in the third-trimester concentration was greater for PCDDs/PCDFs (123678HxCDD, 1234678HpCDF) than for the highest concentration of indicator PCBs (138/158, 153, 180), even after adjusting for potential confounders.

Conclusion: The concentrations of these persistent organic pollutants in a sample of first-time pregnant females living in the United States suggest a decline in exposures to these chemicals since their ban or restricted use and emission. The redistribution of body burden for these and other persistent organic pollutants during pregnancy needs to be more carefully defined to improve the assessment of fetal exposure to them based on maternal serum concentrations. Additional studies are needed to further the understanding of the potential health consequences to the fetus from persistent organic pollutants.

Keywords: PCB; dioxin; females; organochlorine pesticides; persistent organic pollutants; pregnant; serum concentrations.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Benzofurans / blood
  • Dibenzofurans, Polychlorinated
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / blood
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins / analogs & derivatives
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins / blood
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimesters / blood*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Benzofurans
  • Dibenzofurans, Polychlorinated
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls