Relationship of serum TCDD concentrations and age at exposure of female residents of Seveso, Italy

Brenda Eskenazi, Paolo Mocarelli, Marcella Warner, Larry Needham, Donald G. Patterson, Steven Samuels, Wayman Turner, Pier Mario Gerthoux, Paolo Brambilla

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82 Scopus citations


In 1976, a chemical plant explosion near Seveso, Italy, resulted in the highest known exposure to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) in residential populations. In 1996, we initiated the Seveso Women's Health Study (SWHS), a historical cohort study of females who were ≤ 40 years old at the time of explosion and residents of the most heavily contaminated areas, zones A and B. Serum samples collected near the time of the explosion were analyzed for TCDD. We also analyzed pooled serum samples collected in 1976 from females who resided in zone non-ABR, the "unexposed" zone, to assess concurrent background exposures to other dioxins, furans, and coplanar polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The median lipid-adjusted TCDD level for residents of zones A and B combined was 56 ppt (range = 2.5-56,000 ppt). Zone A residents had 5-fold higher TCDD levels (n = 67, median = 272 ppt) than did zone B residents (n = 814, median = 47 ppt). The youngest children had the highest TCDD levels, which decreased with age at explosion until approximately 13 years of age and were constant thereafter. Therefore, children living in zones A and B received a disproportionately higher exposure to TCDD as a result of the explosion. Zone of residence and age were the strongest predictors of TCDD level. Chloracne, nearby animal mortality, location (outdoors vs. indoors) at the time of explosion, and consumption of homegrown food were also related to serum TCDD levels. The serum pools from zone non-ABR residents had an average TCDD concentration of 20.2 ppt, and average total toxic equivalent (TEQ) concentration of 100.4 ppt. Therefore, background exposure to dioxins, furans, and PCBs unrelated to the explosion may have been substantial. As a consequence, previous SWHS studies that considered only TCDD exposure may have underestimated health effects due to total TEQ concentrations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)22-27
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental health perspectives
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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