Globally, many river sediments are seriously contaminated with persistent organic pollutants (POPs) known to accumulate in aquatic food. In the Netherlands, toxicological risks of human exposure to dioxins and dioxin-like compounds led to a ban on eel fishing in the Rhine-Meuse delta. The aim of this study is to investigate differences in serum POP levels in consumers of eel from high-polluted areas and consumers of eel from low-polluted areas or aquaculture. In total 80 Dutch men were included, aged 40–70 years, with a habitual eel consumption of at least one portion (150 g) per month. Total levels of dioxins and dioxin-like compounds were measured in serum of all participants with the DR CALUX bioassay, validated with GC-MS. For a subgroup of 38 participants extensive POP measurements were performed. We revealed that consumption of eel from polluted rivers resulted in 2.5 and up to 10 times increased levels of dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) respectively compared to controls. The highest PCB levels were detected for PCB 153, with a median level of 896 ng/g lipid and a maximum level of 5000 ng/g lipid in the high-exposed group. Furthermore, hydroxylated PCB metabolites (OH-PCBs: sum of 4-OH-CB107, 4-OH-CB146, 4′-OH-CB172, and 4-OH-CB187) were 8 times higher in men who consumed eel from polluted areas, and detected at levels (median 4.5 ng/g ww) reported to cause adverse health effects. Also, the majority of the perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) were significantly higher in consumers of eel from pullulated areas. In conclusion, this study is the first to reveal that (past) consumption of eel from polluted rivers resulted in high body burdens of dioxins, PCBs, OH-PCBs and PFASs. We confirmed the predictions made in a former risk assessment, and the high levels of dioxins and dioxin-like compounds as well as the OH-PCBs are of health concern.
- Consumer health
- eel (Anguilla anguilla)
- Hydroxylated PCBs
- Persistent organic pollutants (POPs)