Change search
ReferencesLink to record
Permanent link

Direct link
A retrospective study of PBDEs and PCBs in human milk from the Faroe Islands
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Environmental Chemistry.
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Materials and Environmental Chemistry (MMK), Environmental Chemistry.
Show others and affiliations
2005 (English)In: Environmental health, ISSN 1476-069X, Vol. 4, no 12Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]


Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in wildlife and humans remain a cause of global concern, both in regard to traditional POPs, such as the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and emerging POPs, such as the polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). To determine the time related concentrations, we analyzed human milk for these substances at three time points between 1987 and 1999. Polychlorobiphenylols (OH-PCBs), the dominating class of PCB metabolites, some of which are known to be strongly retained in human blood, were also included in the assessment.


We obtained milk from the Faroe Islands, where the population is exposed to POPs from their traditional diet (which may include pilot whale blubber). In addition to three pools, nine individual samples from the last time point were also analyzed. After cleanup, partitioning of neutral and acidic compounds, and separation of chemical classes, the analyses were carried out by gas chromatography and/or gas chromatography/mass spectrometry.


Compared to other European populations, the human milk had high PCB concentrations, with pool concentrations of 2300 ng/g fat 1987, 1600 ng/g fat in 1994, and 1800 ng/g fat in 1999 (based on the sum of eleven major PCB congeners). The nine individual samples showed great variation in PCB concentrations. The OH-PCBs were present in trace amounts only, at levels of approximately 1% of the PCB concentrations. The PBDE concentrations showed a clear increase over time, and their concentrations in human milk from 1999 are among the highest reported so far from Europe, with results of individual samples ranging from 4.7 to 13 ng/g fat.


Although remote from pollution sources, the Faroe Islands show high concentrations of POPs in human milk, particularly PCBs, but also PBDEs. The PBDEs show increasing concentrations over time. The OH-PCB metabolites are poorly transferred to human milk, which likely is related to their acidic character.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2005. Vol. 4, no 12
National Category
Biological Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-23652DOI: 10.1186%2F1476-069X-4-12OAI: diva2:193752
Part of urn:nbn:se:su:diva-428Available from: 2005-03-31 Created: 2005-03-31 Last updated: 2010-12-06Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Human exposure to organohalogen compounds in the Faroe Islands
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Human exposure to organohalogen compounds in the Faroe Islands
2005 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic are part of the sub-Arctic region, a remote region far from industrial activity. In spite of this remoteness, the Islands are not a sanctuary: exposures and effects of environmental pollutants mar its natural beauty and wildlife. In the Arctic regions, fish, sea mammals and seabirds have shown to contain elevated levels of the classical persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), as well as more recent POPs such as the polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). Human populations living in the Arctic regions are usually highly dependent on seafood and seabirds as food sources, and diet becomes their major source of exposures to POPs. As reported in the 1980’s, residents of the Faroe Islands were shown to have high concentrations of organohalogen substances (OHS) in their breast milk. Long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) blubber and meat have been shown to be a major source of OHS exposure for some of the Faroe Islanders.

The main objective of this thesis is to investigate the sources and concentrations of some POPs and their metabolites for the Faroese population. First, human milk and serum from pregnant women (mothers) and children were analyzed for PBDEs, PCBs, and polychlorinated biphenylols (OH-PCB), the major PCB metabolites. Second, POPs were measured in seabirds, i.e. PCBs in fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) and guillemots (Uria algae), and PBDEs in fulmars to search for other potential sources of POPs exposure.

The results reinforce previous findings that part of the Faroe Island population is highly exposed to OHS. Median concentrations (430 ng/g lipid weight (l.w.) of CB-153) in maternal serum (1994-95) are among the highest in the world. Serum concentrations of CB-153 in children (age 7, samples collected in the early 2000’s) were approximately 90% of those in the mothers, sampled 1994-95. Similarly high CB-153 concentrations (380 ng/g l.w.) were measured in samples of mother’s milk, collected in 1999. The OH-PCB concentrations were also high in segments of the population, with 2.9 ng/g fresh weight as the sum of five OH-PCBs. Except for 4-OH-CB107, concentrations of OH-PCBs were generally lower in children than in mothers.

The ΣPBDE median concentrations in maternal serum and human milk (1999) are at the higher end of those reported in Europe, with levels of 9.5 and 8.2 ng/g l.w. respectively. ΣPBDE levels increase in human milk samples collected at three different time points (1987-1999), mainly due to increasing BDE-153 concentrations. The range of serum ΣPBDE concentrations in mothers and children are similar, although the congener patterns show differences. BDE-47 is the dominant congener in maternal serum, while BDE-153 is the major congener in children. The differences seen in PBDE congener patterns may arise differences in dates of sampling (7 years) for the two populations, maternal serum sampled in 1994-95 and children serum sampled in 2000-01, rather than from differences in uptake/metabolism or in contemporary exposures.

PCB concentrations in fulmars and pilot whales show similar ranges. In contrast, PBDE concentrations are 100 times higher in pilot whales than in fulmars. Consequently, Faroese may be especially exposed to PCBs via consumption of fulmars and fulmar eggs, while the exposure to PBDEs is less pronounced.

Results from this thesis highlight the pronounced exposures to PCBs, OH-PCBs, and PBDEs among residents of the Faroe Islands, a remote region in the Northern Atlantic far away from industrial and urban sources of pollution.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Institutionen för miljökemi, 2005. 51 p.
PCB, PBDE, OH-PCB, human serum
National Category
Environmental Sciences
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-428 (URN)91-7155-028-3 (ISBN)
Public defence
2005-04-22, Magnélisalen, Kemiska övningslaboratoriet, Svante Arrhenius väg 12 A, Stockholm, 14:00
Available from: 2005-03-31 Created: 2005-03-31Bibliographically approved

Open Access in DiVA

No full text

Other links

Publisher's full text

Search in DiVA

By author/editor
Strid, AnnaBergman, Åke
By organisation
Department of Environmental ChemistryEnvironmental Chemistry
In the same journal
Environmental health
Biological Sciences

Search outside of DiVA

GoogleGoogle Scholar
The number of downloads is the sum of all downloads of full texts. It may include eg previous versions that are now no longer available

Altmetric score

Total: 36 hits
ReferencesLink to record
Permanent link

Direct link