Persistent organic pollutants in serum and several different fat compartments in humans

J Environ Public Health. 2011:2011:417980. doi: 10.1155/2011/417980. Epub 2011 Apr 10.


Background: Chemicals that store in lipid-rich compartments have the potential for long-term disruption of metabolic and endocrine processes. Given the evidence that persistent organic pollutants (POPs) also alter systemic metabolic, endocrine, and immune system functions, it follows that elevated chemical concentrations in intra-abdominal fat may alter function, through local chemical signaling, of visceral organs. Despite this potential, there has been little study defining POP concentrations in live human intra-abdominal fat. It is at present uncertain whether POPs distribute equally to all fat compartments, including fat in serum.

Methods: Seven human subjects scheduled for elective surgery for benign lesions or cancer provided consent for removal of samples of subcutaneous and intra-abdominal fat and/or cancerous tissue. These samples were analyzed for 22 chlorinated pesticides and 10 polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) congeners by GC/ECD plus GC/MS.

Results: In only two subjects were the patterns and relative concentrations of PCBs and pesticides about the same in all fat compartments. In the other subjects, there were major differences in levels in subcutaneous as compared to other compartments, but with some higher and some lower. While the pattern of PCBs in the various compartments matched that of the pesticides in some, it was opposite in others.

Interpretation: These results demonstrate a complicated distribution of PCB congeners and pesticides in various lipid compartments. The difference may reflect various K(ow)s, different rates of metabolism, and/or different lengths of exposure. But the results suggest that contaminant levels in serum or even subcutaneous fat do not necessarily indicate concentrations and patterns in other kinds of adipose tissue.

MeSH terms

  • Chromatography, Gas
  • Electrons
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis*
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood
  • Female
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated / analysis*
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated / blood
  • Intra-Abdominal Fat / chemistry*
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / chemistry
  • Pesticides / analysis*
  • Pesticides / blood
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / analysis*
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / blood
  • Subcutaneous Fat, Abdominal / chemistry*
  • United States


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated
  • Pesticides
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls