Toxicology letters

Monograph: reassessment of human cancer risk of aldrin/dieldrin.

PMID 10555138


In 1987, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified aldrin and dieldrin as category B2 carcinogens, i.e. probable human carcinogens, based largely on the increase in liver tumors in mice fed either organochlorine insecticide. At that date, the relevant epidemiology was deemed inadequate to influence the cancer risk assessment. More time has now elapsed since early exposures of manufacturing workers to aldrin/dieldrin; therefore, updated epidemiological data possess more power to detect exposure-related differences in cancer risk and mortality. Also, recent experimental studies provide a plausible mode of action to explain the mouse specificity of dieldrin-induced hepatocarcinogenesis and call into question the relevance of this activity to human cancer risk. This monograph places this new information within the historic and current perspectives of human cancer risk assessment, including EPA's 1996 Proposed Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment. Updated epidemiological studies of manufacturing workers in which lifetime exposures to aldrin/dieldrin have been quantified do not indicate increased mortality or cancer risk. In fact, at the middle range of exposures, there is evidence of a decrease in both mortality from all causes and cancer. Recent experimental studies indicate that dieldrin-induced hepatocarcinogenesis in mice occurs through a nongenotoxic mode of action, in which the slow oxidative metabolism of dieldrin is accompanied by an increased production of reactive oxygen species, depletion of hepatic antioxidant defenses (particularly alpha-tocopherol), and peroxidation of liver lipids. Dieldrin-induced oxidative stress or its sequelae apparently result in modulation of gene expression that favors expansion of initiated mouse, but not rat, liver cells; thus, dieldrin acts as a nongenotoxic promoter/accelerator of background liver tumorigenesis in the mouse. Within the framework of EPA's Proposed Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment, it is proposed that the most appropriate cancer risk descriptor for aldrin/dieldrin, relating to the mouse liver tumor response, is 'not likely a human carcinogen', a descriptor consistent with the example of phenobarbital cited by EPA.