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Autoantibodies and Levels of Polychlorinated Biphenyls in Persons Living Near a Hazardous Waste Treatment Facility
  1. Leeanne Schoenroth,
  2. Siu Chan,
  3. Marvin Fritzler
  1. From the Faculty of Medicine (L.S., S.C., M.F.), University of Calgary, Calgary, AB.
  2. Supported by the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research.
  3. This study was based in part on data provided by Alberta Health and Wellness. The interpretation and conclusions contained herein are those of the researchers and do not necessarily represent the views of the Government of Alberta. Neither the Government nor Alberta Health and Wellness expressed any opinion in relation to this study.
  4. Address correspondence to: Marvin Fritzler, Faculty of Medicine, 410B Heritage Medical Research Building, University of Calgary, 3330 Hospital Drive NW, Calgary, AB T2N 4N1; e-mail: fritzler{at}


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.

Key Words
  • autoantibodies
  • polychlorinated biphenyls
  • autoimmunity

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