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20 avril 2011 3 20 /04 /avril /2011 09:18

Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology (2011) 21, 224–233; doi:10.1038/jes.2010.2; published online 3 March 2010

Internal exposure to pollutants and sexual maturation in Flemish adolescents

Elly Den Honda, Willem Dhoogeb, Liesbeth Bruckersc, Greet Schoetersa,d, Vera Nelene, Els van de Mieroope, Gudrun Koppena, Maaike Bilauf, Carmen Schroijeng, Hans Keuneh, Willy Baeyensg and Nicolas van Larebekei

.                aFlemish Institute of Technological Research, Environmental Risk and Health, Boeretang 200, B-2400 Mol, Belgium

.                bDepartment of Endocrinology, Ghent University Hospital, De Pintelaan 185, 9000 Ghent, Belgium

.                cInteruniversity Institute for Biostatistics and statistical Bioinformatics, University of Hasselt, Agoralaan 1, B-3590 Diepenbeek, Belgium

.                dDepartment of Biomedical Sciences, University of Antwerp, Universiteitsplein 1, 2610 Antwerp, Belgium

.                eProvincial Institute of Hygiene, Kronenburgstraat 45, B-2000 Antwerp, Belgium

.                fDepartment of Public Health, Ghent University, De Pintelaan 185, 9000 Ghent, Belgium

.                gDepartment of Analytical and Environmental Chemistry (ANCH), Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Pleinlaan 2, B-1050 Brussels, Belgium

.                hFaculty of Political and Social Sciences, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium

.                iDepartment of Radiotherapy, Nuclear Medicine and Experimental Cancerology, Study Centre for Carcinogenesis and Primary Prevention of Cancer, Ghent University, De Pintelaan 185, 9000 Ghent, Belgium

Correspondence: Dr E Den Hond, Flemish Institute of Technological Research (Vito), Environmental Risk and Health, Boeretang 200, B-2400 Mol, Belgium. Tel.: + 32 14 33.52.28. Fax: + 32 14 58.26.57. E-mail: elly.denhond@vito.be

Received 31 July 2009; Accepted 13 January 2010; Published online 3 March 2010.


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Flanders is densely populated with much industry and intensive farming.

Sexual maturation of adolescents (aged 14–15 years) was studied in relation to internal exposure to pollutants.

Serum levels of pollutants and sex hormones were measured in 1679 participants selected as a random sample of the adolescents residing in the study areas.

Data on sexual development were obtained from the medical school examination files.

Self-assessment questionnaires provided information on health, use of medication and lifestyle factors.

In boys, serum levels of hexachlorobenzene (HCB), p,p′-DDE and polychlorinated biphenyls (sum of marker PCB138, 153 and 180) were significantly and positively associated with pubertal staging (pubic hair and genital development).

Higher levels of serum HCB and blood lead were associated with, respectively, a lower and a higher risk of gynecomastia.

In girls, significant and negative associations were detected between blood lead and pubic hair development; higher exposure to PCBs was significantly associated with a delay in timing of menarche.

Environmental exposures to pollutants at levels actually present in the Flemish population are associated with measurable effects on pubertal development.

However, further understanding of toxic mode of action and sensitive windows of exposure is needed to explain the current findings.

Keywords: PCBs; pesticides; metals; endocrine disruptors; biomonitoring

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