Mortality and Exposure Response among 14,458 Electrical Capacitor Manufacturing Workers Exposed to Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)

By Prince, Mary M.; Ruder, Avima M. et al. | Environmental Health Perspectives, October 2006 | Go to article overview

Mortality and Exposure Response among 14,458 Electrical Capacitor Manufacturing Workers Exposed to Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)


Prince, Mary M., Ruder, Avima M., Hein, Misty J., Waters, Martha A., Whelan, Elizabeth A., Nilsen, Nancy, Ward, Elizabeth M., Schnorr, Teresa M., Laber, Patricia A., Davis-King, Karen E., Environmental Health Perspectives


BACKGROUND: We expanded an existing cohort of workers (n = 2,588) considered highly exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) at two capacitor manufacturing plants to include all workers with at least 90 days of potential PCB exposure during 1939-1977 (n = 14,458). Causes of death of a priori interest included liver and rectal cancers, previously reported for the original cohort, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), melanoma, and breast, brain, intestine, stomach, and prostate cancers, based on other studies.

METHODS: We ascertained vital status of the workers through 1998, and cumulative PCB exposure was estimated using a new job exposure matrix. Analyses employed standardized mortality ratios (SMRs; U.S., state, and county referents) and Poisson regression modeling.

RESULTS: Mortality from NHL, melanoma, and rectal, breast, and brain cancers were neither in excess nor associated with cumulative exposure. Mortality was not elevated for liver cancer [21 deaths; SMR 0.89; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.55-1.36], but increased with cumulative exposure (trend p-value = 0.071). Among men, stomach cancer mortality was elevated (24 deaths; SMR 1.53; 95% CI, 0.98-2.28) and increased with cumulative exposure (trend p-value = 0.039). Among women, intestinal cancer mortality was elevated (67 deaths; SMR 1.31; 95% CI, 1.02-1.66), especially in higher cumulative exposure categories, but without a clear trend. Prostate cancer mortality, which was not elevated (34 deaths; SMR 1.04; 95% CI, 0.72-1.45), increased with cumulative exposure (trend p-value = 0.0001).

CONCLUSIONS: This study corroborates previous studies showing increased liver cancer mortality, but we cannot clearly associate rectal, stomach, and intestinal cancers with PCB exposure. This is the first PCB cohort showing a strong exposure-response relationship for prostate cancer mortality.

KEY WORDS: cancer, electrical capacitor manufacturing, liver cancer, mortality, occupational exposure, PCBs, polychlorinated biphenyls, prostate cancer. Environ Health Perspect 114:1508-1514 (2006). doi:10.1289/ehp.9175 available via http://dx.doi.org/ [Online 22 June 2006]

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U.S. production and use of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) ended in 1977 (Smith and Brown 1987). Concern continues about the persistence of PCBs in the environment and potential human health risks. Several strains of rats exposed to PCBs had preneoplastic changes of the biliary tract, intestine, and stomach (Morgan et al. 1981; National Cancer Institute 1978) and increased incidence of liver tumors (Carpenter 2000; Kimbrough et al. 1975). Liver toxicity and hepatocellular neoplasm incidence differed between PCB mixtures, were more severe in females than in males, and increased with dose in females (Mayes et al. 1998).

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC 1987) concluded that there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity of PCBs in animals but limited evidence in humans. Studies of PCB-exposed workers have generally found excesses for several cancer sites, but many were limited by sample size, imprecision in measuring PCB exposure, and/or inability to control for other risk factors and confounders (Carpenter 2000; Faroon et al. 2001).

The mortality of 2,588 workers considered highly exposed to PCBs at two electrical capacitor plants in New York (plant 1) and Massachusetts (plant 2) was initially studied through 1975 (Brown and Jones 1981) and later updated through 1982 (Brown 1987) and 1998 (Prince et al. 2006). In the current study we expanded this cohort to include all employees who worked [greater than or equal to] 90 days, and we ascertained their vital status through 1998. We used a semiquantitative job-exposure matrix (JEM) to estimate cumulative PCB exposure.

Our goal was to investigate previously reported mortality excesses for cancers of the biliary passages, liver, and gallbladder (henceforth, liver cancer) and rectum (Brown 1987). …

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