Elucidating the structural properties that influence the persistence of PCBs in humans using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) dataset

David Megson, Gwen O'Sullivan, Sean Comber, Paul J. Worsfold, Maeve C. Lohan, Melanie R. Edwards, Walter J. Shields, Courtney D. Sandau, Donald G. Patterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

29 Scopus citations


In human exposure studies involving Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), it is useful to establish when an individual was potentially exposed. Age dating PCB exposure is complex but assessments can be made because different PCB congeners have different residence times in the human body. The less chlorinated congeners generally tend to have shorter residence times because they are biotransformed and eliminated faster than more chlorinated congeners. Therefore, the presence of high proportions of less chlorinated congeners is often indicative of recent exposure. The 2003-04 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) dataset contains results for the concentration of 37 PCBs in a sub-sample of the US population. Multivariate statistical analysis of the NHANES data showed that less chlorinated congeners are not always biotransformed faster than higher chlorinated compounds. For example, PCB 28 (a tri-chlorobiphenyl) appears to be more resistant to biotransformation than PCB 101 and 110 (penta-chlorobiphenyls). Using statistical analysis of the NHANES data in conjunction with previously published studies on PCB persistence in humans, it was possible to identify the structural relationships that determine if a PCB is likely to be from a recent exposure (termed 'episodic') or from steady state exposure. Congeners with chlorine atoms in the 2,5- and 2,3,6-positions appear to be more susceptible to biotransformation whereas congeners with chlorine bonds in the 2,3,4- 2,4,5- 3,4,5- and 2,3,4,5-positions appear to be more persistent. This work shows that future investigations to date PCB exposure would benefit from the analysis of a wide range of congeners, including the selection of key congeners based not only on the degree of chlorination but also on the positions of the chlorine atoms on the biphenyl.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-107
Number of pages9
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1 2013


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution

Cite this