Prenatal exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls and fetal growth in British girls

Environ Int. 2018 Jul;116:116-121. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2018.04.007. Epub 2018 Apr 17.


Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are synthetic chemicals that bioaccumulate in the food chain. PCBs were used primarily for industrial applications due to their insulating and fire retardant properties, but were banned in the 1970s in the United States and in the 1980s in the United Kingdom, as adverse health effects following exposure were identified. Previous studies of populations with high PCB exposure have reported inverse associations with birth weight and gestational length. Birth weight is a powerful predictor of infant survival, and low birth weight can predispose infants to chronic conditions in adult life such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, we investigated the association between prenatal exposure to PCBs and fetal growth in a sample of 448 mother-daughter dyads. Concentrations of three common PCB analytes, PCB-118, PCB-153 and PCB-187, were measured in maternal serum collected during pregnancy, and fetal growth was measured by birth weight and birth length. Multivariable linear regression was used to examine the associations between PCB analytes and measures of fetal growth, after adjusting for parity, maternal age, pre-pregnancy BMI, educational status, tobacco use and gestational age of infant at sample collection. Birth length, ponderal index and gestational age were not associated with any of the PCB analytes. Mothers' educational status modified associations for PCB analytes with birthweight. We observed significant inverse associations with birth weight only among daughters of mothers with less education. Daughter's birth weight was -138.4 g lower (95% CI: -218.0, -58.9) for each 10 ng/g lipid increase in maternal serum PCB-118. Similarly, every 10 ng/g lipid increase in maternal serum PCB-153 was associated with a -41.9 g (95% CI: -71.6, -12.2) lower birth weight. Every 10 ng/g lipids increase in maternal serum PCB-187, was associated with a -170.4 g (95% CI: -306.1, -34.7) lower birth weight, among girls with mothers in the lowest education group. Our findings suggest that prenatal exposure to PCBs is inversely associated with daughters' birth weight and that mothers' education, which is a possible marker for socioeconomic status, significantly modified the association between maternal PCB concentrations and birth weight in female newborns.

Keywords: Birthweight; Endocrine disrupting chemicals; Polychlorinated biphenyls; Pregnancy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Fetal Development
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Maternal Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / blood*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / epidemiology*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology


  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls