Predictors of plasma concentrations of DDE and PCBs in a group of U.S. women

Environ Health Perspect. 1999 Jan;107(1):75-81. doi: 10.1289/ehp.9910775.


We evaluated predictors of plasma concentrations of dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE), a metabolite of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in a group of 240 women, controls from a breast cancer case-control study nested in the Nurses' Health Study. We considered personal attributes such as age, serum cholesterol, region of residence, adiposity, lactation, and dietary intake. DDE levels increased 0.17 ppb/year of age (p = 0.0003), and PCBs increased 0.08 ppb (p = 0.0001). DDE and PCBs increased 0.20 (p = 0.02) and 0.13 ppb (p = 0.001), respectively, per 10 mg/dl serum cholesterol. Women living in the western United States had higher levels of DDE (mean = 11.0 ppb; p = 0.003), and women in the Northeast and Midwest had higher levels of PCBs (mean = 5.6 ppb; p = 0.0002) as compared to women from other parts of the country (mean DDE = 6.3; mean PCBs = 4. 5 ppb). Levels of DDE could not be predicted from consumption of meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, vegetables, fruits, and grains. There was a positive association between fish consumption and PCB concentrations among women in the Northeast and Midwest. Using data from the cases in the nested case-control study to assess the predictive ability of the models, we confirmed that the most reliable predictors of DDE were age and serum cholesterol, and the most important predictors of PCBs were age, serum cholesterol, and residence in the Midwest or Northeast. The null results for the majority of the food variables suggest that specific dietary factors, other than fish, are not currently a substantial contributor to human exposure to DDE and PCBs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene / blood*
  • Diet
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / blood*
  • United States


  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls