Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Effect of Prenatal Exposure to Polychlorinated Biphenyls on Incidence of Acute Respiratory Infections in Preschool Inuit Children

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Effect of Prenatal Exposure to Polychlorinated Biphenyls on Incidence of Acute Respiratory Infections in Preschool Inuit Children

Article excerpt

OBJECTIVE: We set out to assess whether environmental prenatal exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) is associated with incidence of acute respiratory infections in preschool Inuit children.

STUDY DESIGN: We reviewed the medical charts of 343 children from 0 to 5 years of age and evaluated the associations between PCB-153 concentration in umbilical cord plasma and the incidence rates of acute otitis media (AOM) and of upper and lower respiratory tract infections (URTIs and LRTIs, respectively).

RESULTS: The incidence rates of AOM and LRTIs were positively associated with prenatal exposure to PCBs. Compared with children in the first quartile of exposure (least exposed), children in fourth quartile (most exposed) had rate ratios of 1.25 (p < 0.001) and 1.40 (p < 0.001) for AOM and LRTIs, respectively. There was no association between prenatal PCB exposure and incidence rate of URTIs or hospitalization.

CONCLUSION: Prenatal exposure to PCBs could be responsible for a significant portion of respiratory infections in children of this population.

KEY WORDS: cord blood, environmental health, human, infections, Inuit, organochlorines, pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, prenatal exposure, respiratory tract infections. Environ Health Perspect 114:1301-1305 (2006). doi:10.1289/ehp.8683 available via [Online 13 March 2006]


It is well known that Inuit children from Canada, United States, and Greenland suffer from a high incidence of respiratory infections, and many authors have identified higher rates of ear infections and lower respiratory tract infections (LRTIs) in Inuit populations compared with Caucasian populations (Banerji et al. 2001; Bluestone 1998; Curns et al. 2002; Davidson et al. 1994; Holman et al. 2001; Karron et al. 1999; Koch et al. 2002; Ling et al. 1969; Lowther et al. 2000; Wainwright 1996). Among the factors suspected to be involved in this phenomenon, perinatal exposure to persistent organic pollutants has been implicated (Dallaire et al. 2004; Dewailly et al. 2000). The immunotoxic potential of some organochlorine compounds (OCs), such as 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-pdioxin (TCDD) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), is well known (Belles-Isles et al. 2002; Chang et al. 1982; Hoffman et al. 1986; Lu and Wu 1985; Neubert et al. 1992; Tryphonas et al. 1991a, 1991b). Although their production and use are now banned in many countries, a significant proportion of what has been emitted in the environment is still present in the biota of almost every region of the world (Braune et al. 1999; Burkow and Kallenborn 2000; Macdonald et al. 2000). The high degree of chlorination of OCs renders them resistant to biodegradation. They accumulate in adipose tissues of living organisms and are biomagnified in the food chain (Evans et al. 1991). The highest plasma concentrations were observed in top predator species (Braune et al. 1999; Muir et al. 1999; Skaare et al. 2000) and in humans with seafood-rich diets (Bjerregaard et al. 2001; Dewailly et al. 1993; Humphrey et al. 2000; Sjodin et al. 2000).

The Nunavik region is located in the northernmost part of the province of Quebec, Canada. Around 9,600 Inuit inhabit 14 Inuit communities spread out on the coastline of Hudson Bay, the Hudson Strait, and the Ungava Bay. For cultural and economical reasons, carnivorous fish and marine mammals constitute an important part of the diet of the Inuit population of Nunavik. Their exposure to food-chain contaminants, such as OCs, is thus proportionally high. Several studies have identified markedly higher concentrations of OCs in adult blood, umbilical cord blood, and breast milk of Nunavik inhabitants, compared with those of the mostly Caucasian southern Quebec population (Ayotte et al. 1997, 2003; Dewailly et al. 1993; Muckle et al. 1998, 2001b; Rhainds et al. 1999).

In 2000, we published a first study showing an association between perinatal exposure to OCs and acute otitis media (AOM) in Nunavik Inuit infants (Dewailly et al. …

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