Health effects and exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and metals in a contaminated community

Environmental measurements carried out by local authorities during the 1970s, 80s and 90s in an area contaminated by hundreds of years of industrial activities have revealed high levels of zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), lead (Pb) and cadmium (Cd) in soil, vegetables, root crops, berries and mushrooms. In 1972, a large quantity of oil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) was accidentally spilled into the river running through the village. To investigate the possible health effects of exposure from local sources, all cancer diagnoses, registered in 1960–2003 for individuals living in the study area, were collected from the regional cancer register of southeast Sweden. The total cancer incidence was non-significantly decreased both among males and females as compared to national rates (SIR = 0.91) for each gender. Among males, increased risks, of border-line significance, were seen for testicular cancer and lymphomas as well as significantly decreased risks for cancer in the rectum, respiratory system and brain. Information on lifetime residence, occupation, smoking habits, diseases, childbirth and food consumption, was collected via questionnaires from cancer cases and randomly selected controls. In both genders combined, significant associations were found for total cancer and high consumption of local perch, and for lymphomas and high consumption of both perch and pikeperch. Female breast cancer was significantly associated with high consumption of local perch and pike as well as with work in metal production. Mothers residing in the parish before the age of five reported significantly more preterm child deliveries. In spite of study limitations, the results indicate that residing in a rural contaminated area may contribute to the development of certain cancers and reproductive effects. In females, high consumption of local fish was shown to be the strongest determinant for total cancer, while in males, the strongest determinant was residing in the study area the first five years of life. Further research including validation of exposure using biomarkers is required to verify the findings as well as future studies in other polluted areas in Sweden with larger population bases.