Current serum levels of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p- dioxin in phenoxy acid herbicide applicators and characterization of historical levels

E. S. Johnson, W. Parsons, C. R. Weinberg, D. L. Shore, J. Mathews, D. G. Patterson, L. L. Needham

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Background: Workers who sprayed phenoxy acid herbicides, especially those who sprayed before 1975, may have been exposed to significant amounts of 2, 3, 7, 8-tetrachlorodi-benzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), a potent animal carcinogen present in herbicide preparations as a contaminant. Purpose: The aims of this study were (a) to determine serum levels of TCDD in a representative sample of workers occupationally exposed to the agent during the spraying of phenoxy acid herbicides; (b) to compare serum levels in workers exposed before 1965, when concentrations in herbicide products were unregulated and high, with levels in workers exposed after 1974, when concentrations were lower as a result of government regulations worldwide; and (c) to examine the correlation, if any, between serum levels and duration of employment in spraying. Methods: Thirty-seven subjects were randomly selected from a group of 654 men who had sprayed the herbicides 2, 4, 5-trichlorophen-oxyacetic acid (2, 4, 5-T) and 2, 4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2, 4-D) in Australia for at least 12 months. The workers were classified as follows: eight who sprayed only before 1965, nine who sprayed only during the period after 1964 and before 1975, and 20 who sprayed during the period after 1974 and before 1991. Serum from the workers was analyzed for TCDD by high-resolution gas chro-matography and high-resolution mass spectrometry at a detection limit of 0.6 parts per trillion (ppt) on a lipid-weight basis. In addition, rates of exposure to TCDD were estimated, as were TCDD serum concentrations at termination of employment and intensity of herbicide use. Results: Only one worker, with a serum TCDD level of 34 ppt, had a serum level higher than the maximum level of 26 ppt reported for the general population. As suming a half-life of 7.1 years, we estimated the mean exposure rates to be 2.7, 2.3, and 0.06 ppt/mo for the three epochs, respectively. We found the highest serum level of TCDD at the time of cessation of employment to be 329 ppt. Calendar period and intensity of use of 2, 4, 5-T and 2, 4-D were statistically significant determinants of rate of exposure to TCDD, but 2, 4-D was associated with exposure rate only for the pre-1975 periods. Estimated rates prior to 1965 were more than an order of magnitude higher than those after 1974. Conclusion: The highest estimated exposure rate was 20.7 ppt/mo, which suggests that some sprayers may have been exposed to levels comparable with those that produce cancer in laboratory animals. [J Natl Cancer Inst 84: 1648-1653, 1992]

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1648-1653
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of the National Cancer Institute
Issue number21
StatePublished - Apr 4 1992

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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