Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are industrially produced environmentally persistent compounds. In developed countries all humans have detectable levels in blood and other tissues. PCBs alter thyroid hormone metabolism in animal experiments, and human data suggest background-level exposure may have similar effects in neonates. We evaluated this possible effect among 160 North Carolina children whose in utero PCB exposure was estimated on the basis of the mother's PCB levels in milk and blood, in 1978- 1982 (estimated median PCB level in milk at birth, 1.8 mg/kg lipid). Their umbilical cord sera were thawed in 1998 and assayed for total thyroxine, free thyroxine, and thyroid stimulating hormone. We found that PCB exposure was not strongly related to any of the thyroid measures. For example, for a one unit change in milk PCB concentration (mg/kg lipid), the associated multivariate-adjusted increase in thyroid stimulating hormone level was 7% (95% confidence limits (CL) = -6, 21). Despite the possibility of sample degradation, these data suggest that within the range of background-level exposure in the United States, in utero PCB exposure is only slightly related to serum concentration of total thyroxine, free thyroxine, and thyroid stimulating hormone at birth.
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