Polychlorinated biphenyls, DDT, polybrominated diphenyl ethers and organic pesticides in United Kingdom harbor seals - mixed exposures and thyroid homeostasis

Ailsa Jane Hall, G O Thomas

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33 Citations (Scopus)


Polychlorinated biphenyls, DDT and its metabolites, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, and selected organochlorine pesticide concentrations were measured in blubber samples from 60 free-living harbor seals in 2003 from five sites around the United Kingdom coast. Significant regional differences among contaminant levels were found, with seals on Islay and Jura (southwest Scotland) having the highest levels of polychlorinated biphenyls and seals in the Wash (eastern England) having the highest polybrominated diphenyl ether levels. Animals from the north and northeast of Scotland (Orkney and the Moray Firth) had the lowest levels of all the contaminant groups studied. Congener-specific profiles of polychlorinated biphenyls and polybrominated diphenyl ethers showed relatively higher levels of the lower chlorinated and brominated compounds at the more northerly sites, with the lowest total levels of both chemical groups. Significant positive relationships between blubber contaminants and total triiodothyronine (TT3) concentrations were found after controlling for the potential effects of confounding because of sex, mass, and season. Increased serum TT3 levels were significantly related to higher blubber contaminant concentrations in the following order: sum of all contaminants > polybrominated diphenyl ethers > polychlorinated biphenyls > DDT Serum TT3 levels in the harbor seals with the highest exposures might be indicative of a T3 thyrotoxicosis, but without information on free T3 and circulating thyroid-stimulating hormone levels, it is difficult to determine the importance of this observation for the health of the individuals or populations. However, the mixture of contaminants to which United Kingdom harbor seals are exposed has changed over the last few decades, and the toxicological and epidemiological importance of adding the brominated compounds to the classical organochlorine and heavy metal mixture is not known.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)851 - 861
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2007


  • endocrine disruption
  • persistent organic pollutants
  • brominated flame retardants
  • thyroxine
  • triiodothyronine
  • FISH
  • UK


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