Excretion of polybrominated diphenyl ethers and AhR activation in breastmilk among firefighters

Alesia M. Jung, Shawn C. Beitel, Shannon L. Gutenkunst, Dean Billheimer, Sara A. Jahnke, Sally R. Littau, Mandie White, Christiane Hoppe-Jones, Nathan J. Cherrington, Jefferey L. Burgess

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Excretion of toxicants accumulated from firefighter exposures through breastmilk represents a potential hazard. We investigated if firefighting exposures could increase the concentration of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) activation in excreted breastmilk. Firefighters and nonfirefighters collected breastmilk samples prior to any firefighting responses (baseline) and at 2, 8, 24, 48, and 72 h after a structural fire (firefighters only). Five PBDE analytes (BDEs 15, 28, 47, 99, and 153) detected in at least 90% of samples were summed for analyses. The AhR in vitro DR CALUX bioassay assessed the mixture of dioxin-like compounds and toxicity from breastmilk extracts. Baseline PBDEs and AhR responses were compared between firefighters and nonfirefighters. Separate linear mixed models assessed changes in sum of PBDEs and AhR response among firefighters over time and effect modification by interior or exterior response was assessed. Baseline PBDE concentrations and AhR responses did not differ between the 21 firefighters and 10 nonfirefighters. There were no significant changes in sum of PBDEs or AhR response among firefighters over time postfire, and no variation by interior or exterior response. Plots of sum of PBDEs and AhR response over time demonstrated individual variation but no consistent pattern. Currently, our novel study results do not support forgoing breastfeeding after a fire exposure. However, given study limitations and the potential hazard of accumulated toxicants from firefighter exposures excreted via breastfeeding, future studies should consider additional contaminants and measures of toxicity by which firefighting may impact maternal and child health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)223-232
Number of pages10
JournalToxicological Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2023


  • aryl hydrocarbon receptor activation
  • child health
  • firefighters
  • maternal
  • occupational exposure
  • polybrominated diphenyl ethers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology


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