Objectives: To assess prenatal exposures and potential health outcomes to environmental toxicants such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs), commonly used pesticides, and two heavy metals – mercury (Hg) and lead (Pb) – in 10 Caribbean countries.
Subjects and Methods: For each participating Caribbean island, approximately 50 maternal blood and urine samples were collected and analysed for POPs such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), other common classes of pesticides used in the Caribbean such as organophosphates (OP), carbamates, chlorophenols and pyrethroids, and for Hg and Pb. Data obtained from the participating countries were compared with those from the United States of America and Canada.
Results: A total of 438 samples were analysed from 10 Caribbean countries. Persistent organic pollutants were detected in almost all samples, however, these were generally low compared with comparable North American results. Evidence of exposure to PBDEs, OPs, carbamates and chlorophenols was also established. Caribbean pyrethroid concentrations were generally much higher than those recorded for North American women. Caribbean Pb maternal blood levels were generally lower than in North America, whereas Hg blood levels were two to three times higher. In almost all of the samples taken in this study, exposures to multiple chemicals were taking place at the same time.
Conclusion: This first Caribbean-wide exploratory biomonitoring study on the concentrations of several toxicants in maternal samples taken from 10 Caribbean countries clearly reinforces the need for Caribbean primary care physicians and other public health officials to encourage their patients, and in particular pregnant women, to reduce their exposures to these environmental contaminants as far as it is feasible to do so.