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Environ Health Perspect. 2009 Apr;117(4):605-10. doi: 10.1289/ehp.0800205. Epub 2008 Dec 10.

Persistent organic pollutant residues in human fetal liver and placenta from Greater Montreal, Quebec: a longitudinal study from 1998 through 2006.

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Health Canada, Health Products and Food Branch, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.



There is general concern that persistent organic pollutants (POPs) found in the environment, wildlife, food, water, house dust, human tissues, and fluids may alter normal human physiologic activities (e.g., fetal development, immune and endocrine systems). Although the levels of some POPs [polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and organochlorine pesticides (OCs)] in these matrices have decreased after their ban, others [polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)] have increased in recent years.


To determine the longitudinal trend of specific POPs in human fetal tissues for risk assessment purposes.


We analyzed early to mid-gestation fetal liver (n = 52) and placental (n = 60) tissues, obtained after elective abortions during 1998-2006, for selected PBDEs, PCBs, and OCs using gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy.


Total PBDEs in fetal liver increased over time (mean +/- SE: 1998, 284.4 +/- 229.8 ng/g lipid; 2006, 1,607.7 +/- 605.9; p < 0.03), whereas placental levels were generally lower, with no clear trend. Low levels of PCBs and OCs varied yearly, with no evident trend. The major analytes in 1998 were OCs (liver, 49%; placenta, 71%), whereas the major analytes in 2006 were PBDEs (liver, 89%; placenta, 98%). The 1998-2006 tissue PBDE congener profile is similar to that of DE-71, a commercial primarily pentabrominated diphenyl ether mixture manufactured in North America.


Although commercial production of penta- and octa-brominated diphenyl ethers in North America was halted in 2004, their concentrations in fetal liver and placenta are now greater than the tissue burdens for the analyzed OCs and PCBs. Our findings also demonstrate that PBDEs accumulate within the fetal compartment at a very early stage in gestation.


OCs; PBDEs; PCBs; POPs; fetus; human; liver; placenta

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