In 1976, near Seveso, Italy, an industrial accident caused the release of large quantities of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) into the atmosphere, resulting in the highest levels of the toxicant ever recorded in humans. The contaminated area was divided into three zones (A, B, R) corresponding to decreasing TCDD levels in soil, and a cohort including all residents was enumerated. The population of the surrounding noncontaminated area (non-ABR) was chosen as referent population. Two decades after the accident, plasma TCDD levels were measured in 62 subjects randomly sampled from the highest exposed zones (A and B) and 59 subjects from non-ABR, frequency matched for age, gender, and cigarette smoking status. Subjects living in the exposed areas have persistently elevated plasma TCDD levels (range = 1.2-89.9 ppt; geometric mean = 53.2 and 11.0 ppt for Zone A and Zone B, respectively). Levels significantly decrease by distance from the accident site (p = 0.0001), down to general population values (4.9 ppt) in non-ABR, thus validating the original zone classification based on environmental measurements. Women have higher TCDD levels than men in the entire study area (p = 0.0003 in Zone B; p = 0.007 in non-ABR). This gender difference persists after adjustment for location within the zone, consumption of meat derived from locally raised animals, age, body mass index, and smoking. There is no evidence for a gender difference in exposure, so variation in metabolism or elimination due to body fat or hormone-related factors may explain this finding. Elevated TCDD levels in women may contribute to adverse reproductive, developmental, and cancer outcomes.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
- Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis