Distribution of blood concentrations of persistent organic pollutants in a representative sample of the population of Barcelona in 2006, and comparison with levels in 2002

Science of the Total Environment



POP biomonitoring programs are useful for exposure assessment, to analyze patterns, and to evaluate policies. However, population-representative surveys are scarce and heterogeneous. Reports on time trends in representative samples using the same methods are rare. Objectives

To analyze the distribution of serum concentrations of 19 POPs in the general population of Barcelona city in 2006, and to compare it with the distribution in 2002.


231 participants in the Barcelona Health Survey were interviewed face-to-face, gave blood, and underwent a physical exam. Density plots (“POP Geoffrey Rose curves”) were used to represent the full population distribution of each compound.


Eight POPs were each detected in > 80% of the study subjects: p,p′-DDT, p,p′-DDE, PCB congeners 118, 138, 153 and 180, HCB and β-HCH. The minimum number of POPs detected in one person was 5, and 72% of the population accumulated ≥ 10 compounds. p,p′-DDE and HCB showed the highest concentrations (median = 219 and 109 ng/g lipid, respectively). Concentrations decreased by 34–56% from 2002 to 2006. The decrease was similar in women and men, and in all age groups/birth cohorts. It was larger with increasing BMI; for p,p′-DDT, HCB and β-HCH the decrease in obese individuals was 31–44 percentage points larger than in subjects with normal weight. The distribution of POP concentrations was always switched towards higher values in women than men. POP levels also differed significantly by age, body mass index, weight gain, birth place and social class, but not by parity and breastfeeding. The two younger cohorts had a higher DDT/DDE ratio than the oldest cohort. Conclusion

Although human POP contamination remains common in the city of Barcelona, concentrations decreased significantly in 4 years. Our approach suggests innovative ways to conceive, analyze and present results for other monitoring programs.


  • Eight of the 19 POPs analyzed were (each) detected in > 80% of the study subjects.
  • The minimum number of POPs detected in one person was 5.
  • There were large interindividual differences in concentrations.
  • POP concentrations decreased 34–56% in Barcelona city in 4 years.
  • Our “POP Geoffrey Rose curves” emphasize the population nature of the problem.