Contaminant profiles in Southeast Asian immigrants consuming fish from polluted waters in northeastern Wisconsin

Susan L. Schantz, Joseph C. Gardiner, Andréa Aguiar, Xiaoqin Tang, Donna M. Gasior, Anne M. Sweeney, Jennifer D. Peck, Douglas Gillard, Paul J. Kostyniak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent immigrants to the USA from Southeast Asia may be at higher risk of exposure to fish-borne contaminants including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), p, p′-dichlorodiphenyldichloroethene (DDE) and methylmercury (MeHg) because of their propensity to engage in subsistence fishing. Exposure to contaminants was assessed in men and women of Hmong descent living in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where the Fox River and lower Green Bay are contaminated with PCBs, and to a lesser extent with mercury. Serum samples from 142 people were analyzed for PCBs and p,p′-DDE by capillary column gas chromatography with electron capture detection (ECD). Whole blood was analyzed for total mercury by cold vapor atomic absorption spectrometry and atomic fluorescence spectroscopy. Lipid-adjusted total PCB concentrations ranged from 8.7 to 3,091 ng/g (full range of the data), with a geometric mean of 183.6 ng/g (estimated after eliminating one outlier). DDE ranged from 0.3 to 7,083 (full range of the data) with a geometric mean of 449.8 ng/g (estimated after eliminating two outliers). Men had higher PCB and DDE concentrations than women. Serum PCB concentrations were significantly correlated with fish consumption (r=0.43, p<0.0001), whereas DDE concentrations were not (r=0.09,p=0.29). Instead, serum DDE was strongly associated with the number of years spent in a Thai refugee camp before immigrating to the USA (r=0.60;p<0.0001). PCB congeners 138, 153, 118 and 180 accounted for a smaller percentage of the total PCBs than has been reported in other fish-eating populations, and several lightly chlorinated congeners were present in relatively large amounts. Mercury exposure was low in this population. In conclusion, Hmong immigrants in northeastern Wisconsin are at risk of elevated PCB exposure from consumption of locally caught fish. The pattern of exposure is somewhat different than patterns in other fish-eating populations, possibly due to use of Aroclor 1242 by the paper industry in this region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-39
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010


  • Contaminated fish
  • DDE
  • Mercury
  • PCBs
  • Southeast Asian immigrants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)


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