Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

The University of Michigan Dioxin Exposure Study: Predictors of Human Serum Dioxin Concentrations in Midland and Saginaw, Michigan

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

The University of Michigan Dioxin Exposure Study: Predictors of Human Serum Dioxin Concentrations in Midland and Saginaw, Michigan

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND: We conducted a population-based human exposure study in response to concerns among the population of Midland and Saginaw counties, Michigan, that discharges by the Dow Chemical Company of dioxin-like compounds into the nearby river and air had led to an increase in residents' body burdens of polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDDs), polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs), and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), here collectively referred to as "dioxins."

OBJECTIVES: We sought to identify factors that explained variation in serum dioxin concentrations among the residents of Midland and Saginaw counties. Exposures to dioxins in soil, river sediments, household dust, historic emissions, and contaminated fish and game were of primary interest.

METHODS: We studied 946 people in four populations in the contaminated area and in a referent population, by interview and by collection of serum, household dust, and residential soil. Linear regression was used to identify factors associated with serum dioxins.

RESULTS: Demographic factors explained a large proportion of variation in serum dioxin concentrations. Historic exposures before 1980, including living in the Midland/Saginaw area, hunting and fishing in the contaminated areas, and working at Dow, contributed to serum dioxin levels. Exposures since 1980 in Midland and Saginaw counties contributed little to serum dioxins.

CONCLUSIONS: This study provides valuable insights into the relationships between serum dioxins and environmental factors, age, sex, body mass index, smoking, and breast-feeding. These factors together explain a substantial proportion of the variation in serum dioxin concentrations in the general population. Historic exposures to environmental contamination appeared to be of greater importance than recent exposures for dioxins.

Key WORDS: epidemiology, exposure pathways, polychlorinated biphenyls, polychlorinated dioxins, polychlorinated furans, soil contamination. Environ Health Perspect 117:818-824 (2009). doi: 10.1289/ehp.11779 available via [Online 22 December 2008]


Polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs), dibenzofurans (PCDFs), and coplanar polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), collectively referred to as dioxin-like compounds or dioxins, are of concern because they are toxic, persist in the environment, have the potential for accumulation in the food chain, and are detected at low concentrations in virtually all humans [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 2003a, 2003b, 2003c]. A number of environmental exposure incidents have resulted in increased body burdens of dioxins, including the release of 2, 3, 7, 8-tetra-chlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) from a reactor accident in Seveso, Italy, in 1976 (Bertazzi et al. 2001; Landi et al. 1998); exposure to Agent Orange from the Vietnam conflict among the Ranch Hands cohort (Akhtar et al. 2004) and Vietnamese civilians (Baughman and Meselson 1973; Dwernychuk et al. 2002; Schecter et al. 1986, 2003); and victims of the Yusho (Masuda 2003; Rappe et al. 1978) and Yucheng (Guo and Yu 2003) rice oil poisoning incidents in 1968 and 1979, respectively. These studies have documented increased body burdens of dioxins among exposed populations but have provided limited data regarding the potential exposure pathways by which the dioxin releases have reached the human population. It is important to identify the pathways by which historic contamination continues to contribute to human body burdens and those that do not.

The pathways by which dioxins in environmental media reach humans are of particular interest in settings where there has been substantial environmental contamination over long periods of time. For the purposes of this article, we use the term "contamination" to mean the presence of dioxins above background levels in environmental media, where we define "background" as the concentration that would occur in an area that is without known point sources of that substance (U. …

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