Production of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) ended in the United States in the 1970s, but PCBs persist in the environment and are detectable in the blood of approximately 80% of Americans over age 50. PCBs decrease dopamine levels in rats and monkeys. Loss of dopamine is the hallmark of Parkinson disease, a neurodegenerative disease. There are no epidemiologic studies of PCBs and neurodegenerative disease. We conducted a retrospective mortality study of 17,321 PCB-exposed workers to determine whether mortality from Parkinson disease, dementia, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis was elevated compared with the U.S. population. All workers had a least 90 days employment in 1 of 3 electrical capacitor plants using PCBs from the 1940s to the 1970s. PCB serum levels from a sample of these workers in the 1970s were approximately 10 times the level of community controls. We found no overall excess of Parkinson disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or dementia in the PCB-exposed cohort (standardized mortality ratios [SMRs]-1.40, 1.11, and 1.26, respectively, and number of deaths-14, 10, and 28 respectively). However, sex-specific analyses revealed that women had an excess of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (SMR-2.26; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.08-4.15; 10 deaths). Furthermore, among highly exposed women (defined by a job-exposure matrix), we found an excess of Parkinson disease (SMR-2.95; 95% CI = 1.08-6.42; 6 deaths) and dementia (SMR-2.04; 95% CI = 1.12-3.43; 14 deaths). Our data are limited due to small numbers and reliance on mortality rather than incidence data, but are suggestive of an effect of PCBs on neurodegenerative disease for women. The literature does not offer an explanation for why women would be more affected than men by PCB exposure for these outcomes.
Kyle Steenland, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, 1518 Clifton Road, Atlanta, GA 30322