Polybrominated dibenzo-p-dioxins and furans (PBDD/Fs) in Italian food: Occurrence and dietary exposure

Gianfranco Diletti, Roberta Ceci, Alfonso De Benedictis, Manuela Leva, Giacomo Migliorati, Luigi Pirito, Ilaria Vairano, Alwyn R. Fernandes

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Human exposure to polychlorinated dioxins and furans (PCDD/Fs) through the dietary pathway is widely recognised and regulations in some regions of the world help to limit food contamination. Similar information on the analogous polybrominated dioxins and furans (PBDD/Fs) is scarce, partly due to the higher threshold to analytical access and unavailability of some standard materials. The analytical methodology developed here determined twelve planar PBDD/F congeners using 13Carbon labelled PBDD/F surrogates and high resolution mass spectrometric detection, and was extensively validated prior to the analysis of a range of commonly consumed Italian foods. The methodology also allowed simultaneous determination of PCDD/Fs and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The results show that PBDD/Fs occurred in different foods over a range of concentrations from <0.001 pg/g to 4.58 pg/g in fish. The dietary exposure (upper bound) of different Italian population groups, resulting from these occurrence levels was estimated using the toxic equivalency (TEQ) approach that is commonly used for dioxin-like contaminants and ranged from 0.17 to 0.42 pg TEQ/kg bodyweight/day (lower bound – 0.01 pg TEQ/kg bodyweight/day) depending on the population subgroup. Although precautionary, upper bound values may provide a more realistic estimate of toxicity as not all congeners and foods were measured. As expected, children were more highly exposed than adults due to lower body weight. These exposure levels were between a quarter and a third of that arising from the sum of PCDD/Fs and PCBs (0.61 to 1.38 pg WHO-TEQ/kg bodyweight/day), but they contribute to the dioxin-like toxicity. If this data is considered in view of the revised tolerable dioxin-like dietary intake published by EFSA in 2018, it is evident that the tolerable weekly intake of 2 pg/kg bodyweight/week would be exceeded by some of the assessed population sub-groups, or all sub-groups if the cumulative intake is considered.
Original languageEnglish
Article number139916
Number of pages8
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date5 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020


  • Brominated
  • Dioxin-like
  • Human exposure
  • Relative potency
  • Tolerable intake
  • Toxic equivalence

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