Organochlorine pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls in human milk of mothers living in northern Germany: current extent of contamination, time trend from 1986 to 1997 and factors that influence the levels of contamination

Sci Total Environ. 1998 Apr 23;215(1-2):31-9. doi: 10.1016/s0048-9697(98)00008-4.


This study reports the concentration levels of PCB, DDT, HCB and beta-HCH in the human milk of women living in northern Germany over a period of 12 years and determines factors that may influence these levels. From 1986 to 1997 more than 3500 milk samples were analyzed for organochlorine compounds. A questionnaire was used to obtain information regarding personal characteristics, life style factors and eating habits. Descriptive statistics of concentration levels were computed to characterize the current extent of contamination. To follow time trends across the years homogeneous subgroups were compared and multiple regression analyses were used to investigate associations between determining factors and specific contaminants. Between summer 1995 and summer 1997 the median PCB concentration level was 0.502 mg/kg, the median DDT level 0.202 mg/kg, the median HCB level 0.065 mg/kg and the median beta-HCH level 0.036 mg/kg, all values expressed on a fat basis. The median concentration levels decreased by 80-90% during the past 12 years and the median PCB levels by 60%. The concentration levels of all substances were positively correlated with maternal age and negatively associated to parity, to the total period of breast-feeding and to a weight increase of mothers before and after delivery. Post-pregnancy BMI was a significant predictor of the likelihood of having higher concentrations for DDT, HCB and beta-HCH and of having lower concentrations for PCB levels. A balanced diet for at least 3 years was related to lower HCB and beta-HCH levels. Women who ate more than 100 g of fish or more than 700 g of meat per week were more likely to have higher PCB and beta-HCH levels or higher HCB levels, respectively. Higher HCB and beta-HCH concentration levels were associated with lower birth weights of female infants.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Birth Weight
  • Cohort Studies
  • DDT / analysis
  • Diet*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Female
  • Germany
  • Hexachlorobenzene / analysis
  • Hexachlorocyclohexane / analysis
  • Humans
  • Insecticides / analysis*
  • Life Style
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / analysis*
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Insecticides
  • Hexachlorobenzene
  • Hexachlorocyclohexane
  • DDT
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls