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Environmental contaminants in coastal populations: Comparisons with the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and resident dolphins



Lorraine C. Backer, Birgit Bolton, Jenny A. Litz, Jennifer Hoguet, Stephanie Kieszak, John Kucklick


Background People living in coastal communities are at risk for exposure to environmental hazards, including legacy chemicals. We can use databases such as NHANES to assess whether contaminants in coastal communities are present in higher levels than in the United States overall. We can use information from studies of local animal populations to assess which of these contaminants could have been transferred to people from their shared environment. Objective Our objectives were to examine the POP profiles in human populations in areas where there are published POP profiles in resident dolphins and to compare our results with data from NHANES and the dolphin studies. Methods We identified three areas where POPs have been analyzed in local resident dolphin populations (total N = 73). We identified human communities in the same areas, and asked 27 eligible adults to read and sign a consent form, complete a questionnaire about demographics and seafood consumption, provide nine 10-mL blood samples, and provide one sample of seafood (N = 33). Blood and seafood were analyzed for a suite of POPs similar to those analyzed in published dolphin population studies. We compared the results from human blood analyses with NHANES and with data from the published reports of dolphin studies. Results Levels and proportions of specific POPs found in people and animals reflect POPs found in the local environment. Compared with the nationally representative data reported in NHANES, the levels of many POPs found in high levels in dolphins were also higher in the corresponding human communities. Conclusions Contaminants measured in marine animals, such as dolphins, can be used to identify the types and relative levels of environmental contaminants expected to occur in people sharing the same environment. Likewise, contaminants measured in coastal human populations can provide insight into which contaminants may be found in nearby animal populations.
Science of the Total Environment
15 December 2019


Ocean toxins, Sentinel animals, Marine mammals, Biomonitoring


Backer, L. , Bolton, B. , Litz, J. , Hoguet, J. , Kieszak, S. and Kucklick, J. (2019), Environmental contaminants in coastal populations: Comparisons with the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and resident dolphins, Science of the Total Environment, [online], (Accessed July 19, 2024)


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Created August 21, 2019, Updated November 16, 2022