Background Increased autoantibody prevalence has been described in instances of high-dose exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). In 1996, an equipment malfunction at the Swan Hills Treatment Centre in Alberta, Canada, caused the release of gases containing PCBs into the ambient air. In view of the immune effects of PCBs and their potential as endocrine disruptors, we assessed autoantibody prevalence and looked for correlations with PCB levels.
Methods Fifty-seven persons living within a 100 km radius of the waste treatment facility were assessed. Autoantibodies were measured by indirect immunofluorescence, double immunodiffusion, and immunoblotting. The levels of 26 congeners of PCBs were measured by gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. Provincial health records for physician visits and hospitalizations were reviewed for diagnoses of autoimmune disease.
Results The prevalence of autoantibodies was 11% in the study participants and 0% in healthy controls. There was no correlation of PCB levels with autoantibody results. There was no associated increase in autoimmune disease noted on physician visits or hospitalizations. PCB levels were comparable to background levels reported for other populations.
Conclusion A correlation of titers of autoantibodies in the sera of individuals at risk and the blood levels of PCBs was not found, and the prevalence of autoantibodies in the at-risk group was not statistically different (p > .05) from that of an unexposed control group. The study group had higher titers of autoantibodies and some strong reactivity with intracellular antigens, but the significance of this observation may be understood only after long-term clinical assessments and follow-up.