Within the Flemish Environment and Health studies (FLEHS I, 2002-2006, and FLEHS II, 2007-2012), pesticide exposure, hormone levels and degree of sexual maturation were measured in 14-15-year-old adolescents residing in Flanders (Belgium). In FLEHS II, geometric mean concentrations (with 95 % confidence interval (CI)) of 307 (277-341) and 36.5 ng L(-1) (34.0-39.2) were found for p,p'-dichlorophenyldichloroethylene (p,p'-DDE) and hexachlorobenzene (HCB). These values were respectively 26 and 60 % lower than levels in FLEHS I, 5 years earlier. Metabolites of organophosphorus pesticides (OPPs) and of para-dichlorobenzene were measured for the first time in FLEHS II, yielding concentrations of 11.4, 3.27 and 1.57 μg L(-1) for the sum of dimethyl- and diethyl phosphate metabolites and 2,5-dichlorophenol (2,5-DCP), respectively. Data on internal exposure of HCB showed a positive correlation with sexual maturation, testosterone and the aromatase index for boys and with free thyroxine (fT4) and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) (both boys and girls). For both p,p'-DDE and HCB, a negative association with sexual development in girls was found. The OPP metabolites were negatively associated with sex hormone levels in the blood of boys and with sexual maturation (both boys and girls). The pesticide metabolite 2,5-DCP was negatively correlated with free T4, while a positive association with TSH was reported (boys and girls). These results show that even exposure to relatively low concentrations of pesticides can have significant influences on hormone levels and the degree of sexual maturation in 14-15-year-old adolescents.
Keywords: Endocrine disruption; FLEHS; Hormones; Human biomonitoring; Pesticides; Sexual development.