Bichteler A, Wikoff DS, Loko F, Harris MA. 2017. Estimating serum concentrations of dioxin-like compounds in the U.S. population effective 2005-2006 and 2007-2008: A multiple imputation and trending approach incorporating NHANES pooled sample data. Environ Int 105(2017):112-125.
Dioxin-like compounds (DLCs) are monitored in the U.S. population using data collected with the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Until recently, participants’ serum samples have been analyzed individually, and summary statistics defining reference ranges by age, gender, and race/ethnicity have served as the background by which other biomonitoring data can be evaluated. In the most recent NHANES DLC data, 2005–2006 and 2007–2008, participants’ sera have been physically pooled prior to laboratory analysis, introducing major challenges to their utility as a reference population: variability among individuals and relations with covariates are lost, and individual design effects cannot be applied. Further, the substantial drop in limits of detection (LODs) in pooled sample biennials prevents reliable comparisons to individual data, and has complicated estimates of change over time. In this study, we address the drawbacks introduced by pooled samples by generating U.S. population reference ranges based on individual-level data adjusted to 2005–2006 and 2007–2008 levels. Using publicly available data, multiple imputation (MI) generated four NHANES biennials (2001–2008) of individual DLC data; we then trended the change over time in each DLC by demographic stratum. NHANES 2003–2004 individuals were adjusted by the trended change over time. Population estimates of toxic equivalency (TEQ) concentrations were calculated using traditional MI survey analysis methods and reference tables provided for 2005–2006 and 2007–2008 by age, race, and gender. Demographic differences in TEQ concentrations and trended change are reported, e.g. TEQ continues to drop in young adults aged 20–39, but distributions appear stable in older adults 60 +; Mexican Americans have consistently lowest dioxins, furans, and PCBs, with non-Hispanic Blacks dropping to the same levels as non-Hispanic Whites in dioxins and PCBs and significantly below non-Hispanic Whites in furans by 2007–2008. Additionally, the ratio of 95th percentile to mean in DLC distributions was found to vary by age, between dioxins, furans, and PCBs, and across mean, making a simple ratio approach impractical for describing population concentrations using pooled samples. We discuss the practical implications of the pooled sample method, the performance of this trending solution in the context of other methods, and expected effects of distribution assumptions on variability and TEQ estimates, particularly in largely undetected congeners. These updated reference populations of individuals, along with information on trending, provide a common and valid basis for interpreting other individually sampled biomonitoring data.