Service Communautaire d'Information sur la Recherche et le Développement - CORDIS

In utero environmental exposure as assessed from biological samples

Maternal environmental exposure to selected xenobiotics (persistent organic pollutants) and toxic metals (cadmium and lead) was measured by analysis of biological tissue from mothers living in areas across Europe subject to different pollution levels. Toxic metals concentrations in placental tissue and maternal blood samples taken at delivery were determined by flameless atomic absorption spectrometry. A total of 21 organic xenobiotics were analysed in placental tissue, maternal blood and breast milk samples using gas capillary chromatography.

Toxic metals. The highest concentrations of both cadmium and lead were found in blood and placenta samples from the agricultural region of Giurgiu in Romania. The mean value for Cadmium in blood ranged from 0.793ug/l in Giurgiu down to 0.255ug/l in the urban/industrial city of Bratislava in Slovakia. Mean cadmium concentrations in placental tissue ranged from 0.0102ug/g in Giurgiu to 0.0071ug/g in Bratislava. For lead the mean concentrations in maternal blood ranged from 56.66ug/l in Giurgiu to 19.77ug/l in Mol (urban region in belgium) and for placental tissue from 0.0796ug/g in Giurgiu down to 0.0141ug/g in Mol. A positive correlation was found for concentrations of cadmium in blood and placental tissue (r= 0.55, p<0.001) and also lead in blood and placental tissue (r=0.64, p<0.001).

Organochlorine pollutants. These were categorised as chlorinated benzenes, organochlorine insecticides and PCBs for the purposes of analysis. For the organochlorine insecticides, the levels were strongly elevated for all samples from Romania compared with the other countries, with values consistently higher for Giurgiu (agricultural) compared with Bucharest urban/industrial. The mean values in Romanian samples were 1,515.2ng/g fat for maternal blood; 1,510.9ng/g fat for placenta and 4,467.9ng/g fat for breast milk. The concentrations for chlorinated benzenes and for PCBs were less disparate between the countries. The most predominant compound was p,p´-DDE in each of the biological matrices (median values/g lipid: serum: 327ng, placenta: 235ng, milk: 785ng). Concentrations of organochlorine compounds were highest in breast milk samples, followed by maternal blood serum and placenta, except for HCB, which reached highest levels in the blood serum (median 67ng/g lipid). Significant correlations were found for organochlorine pesticides among maternal blood, placenta and breast milk, with the strongest associations for beta-HCH (p<0.001). PCB levels correlated between maternal blood and placenta and placenta and breast milk (p<0.001). Results suggest a wide variation in exposure to organochlorines across the regions, mainly with respect to pesticides. Concentrations of beta-HCH, DDE and DDT were significantly higher in all biological samples from Romania, compared to Belgium and Slovakia (p<0.001) but no clear trend was found for PCB exposure.

Dissemination of these results will be in the form of scientific peer-reviewed publications in appropriate scientific journals. Summary information will also be made available on the project website.

Use potential. This result provides novel information relating to the maternal and fetal exposure of the individual in relation to local environment. This is valuable data for feeding into other epidemiological or biomonitoring studies as such information is expensive to obtain, particularly for birth cohort studies.

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Margaret SAUNDERS, (Head of Unit)
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