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Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Dec;109(12):1291-9.

Prenatal exposure of the northern Québec Inuit infants to environmental contaminants.

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Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Laval University and Public Health Research Unit, CHUQ Research Center (CHUL), Beauport, Québec, Canada.


The Inuit population residing in Nunavik (northern Québec, Canada) relies on species from the marine food web for subsistence and is therefore exposed to high doses of environmental contaminants such as polychlorinated biphenyls and methylmercury and to a lesser extent lead. In view of the neurotoxic properties of these substances following developmental exposure, we initiated a study on infant development in this remote coastal population. Here we report the magnitude of prenatal exposure to these contaminants and to selective nutrients in Inuit mothers and their newborns who were recruited on the Hudson Bay coast. We conducted interviews during the women's pregnancies and at 1 and 11 months postpartum and collected biological samples for mercury, lead, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and chlorinated pesticides analyses as well as selenium and N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n3-PUFA). Cord blood, maternal blood, and maternal hair mercury concentrations averaged 18.5 microg/L, 10.4 microg/L, and 3.7 microg/g, respectively, and are similar to those found in the Faroe Islands but lower than those documented in the Seychelles Islands and New Zealand cohorts. Concentrations of PCB congener 153 averaged 86.9, 105.3, and 131.6 microg/kg (lipids) in cord plasma, maternal plasma, and maternal milk, respectively; prenatal exposure to PCBs in the Nunavik cohort is similar to that reported in the Dutch but much lower than those in other Arctic cohorts. Levels of n3-PUFA in plasma phospholipids and selenium in blood are relatively high. The relatively low correlations observed between organochlorine and methylmercury concentrations may make it easier to identify the specific developmental deficits attributable to each toxicant. Similarly, the weak correlations noted between environmental contaminants and nutrients will facilitate the documentation of possible protective effects afforded by either n3-PUFA or selenium against neurotoxic contaminants.

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