Country-specific chemical signatures of persistent environmental compounds in breast milk
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Summary Recent reports have confirmed a worldwide increasing trend of testicular cancer incidence, and a conspicuously high prevalence of this disease and other male reproductive disorders, including cryptorchidism and hypospadias, in Denmark. In contrast, Finland, a similarly industrialized Nordic country, exhibits much lower incidences of these disorders. The reasons behind the observed trends are unexplained, but environmental endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that affect foetal testis development are probably involved. Levels of persistent chemicals in breast milk can be considered a proxy for exposure of the foetus to such agents. Therefore, we undertook a comprehensive ecological study of 121 EDCs, including the persistent compounds dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pesticides and flame retardants, and non-persistent phthalates, in 68 breast milk samples from Denmark and Finland to compare exposure of mothers to this environmental mixture of EDCs. Using sophisticated, bioinformatic tools in our analysis, we reveal, for the first time, distinct country-specific chemical signatures of EDCs with Danes having generally higher exposure than Finns to persistent bioaccumulative chemicals, whereas there was no country-specific pattern with regard to the non-persistent phthalates. Importantly, EDC levels, including some dioxins, PCBs and some pesticides (hexachlorobenzene and dieldrin) were significantly higher in Denmark than in Finland. As these classes of EDCs have been implicated in testicular cancer or in adversely affecting development of the foetal testis in humans and animals, our findings reinforce the view that environmental exposure to EDCs may explain some of the temporal and between-country differences in incidence of male reproductive disorders.