Reviews of environmental contamination and toxicology

Ecological toxicology and human health effects of heptachlor.

PMID 2403688


The chlorinated cyclodiene heptachlor was registered in 1952 as an agricultural and domestic insecticide. By early 1984, registration for all purposes, except subterranean termite control and for limited use in the control of fire ants, had been cancelled. This restriction of use arose primarily from concerns over the environmental persistance and bioaccumulation potential of the organochlorine pesticides. Currently, sale of heptachlor has been voluntarily suspended over questions about its carcinogenic potential, and the absence of safe and effective application methods. As a persistent organochlorine pesticide, heptachlor residues are detected in all components of the environment. In historical use, heptachlor was directly applied to terrestrial systems, while air and water were secondarily contaminated via volatilization and land run-off, respectively. Within each environmental compartment, heptachlor undergoes a variety of metabolic and abiotic transformations. In vivo studies indicate that heptachlor epoxide is the predominant metabolite, formed as a product of the mixed-function oxidase system, while 1-hydroxychlordene is the major soil metabolite. For quantification, heptachlor and its metabolites are extracted from air, soil and sediment, water, or biological materials using various organic solvents and analyzed by gas chromatography or thin-layer chromatography. Residue reports comprise most of the literature concerning the effects of heptachlor on the biota. In many such reports, toxic effects cannot be conclusively attributed to heptachlor exposure. Toxicity to organisms seems more dependent on acute exposure, while the chronic effects of low level exposure to heptachlor are poorly defined. Maximal terrestrial residues coincide with temporal and spatial proximity to application; peak residues in aquatic systems on the other hand, correlate to periods of maximum run-off. The lipophilic nature of both heptachlor and heptachlor epoxide results in the potential for significant bioaccumulation in all lipid-type compartments in the environment. The toxic effects of heptachlor are not specific for any one organ system. The liver and the central nervous system are most significantly affected by heptachlor, although effects can also be seen in the reproductive, hematopoietic, immune, and renal systems. An important consideration is the relation of relevant environmental exposure levels to toxicity. The concentrations necessary to elicit results in laboratory experiments do not translate directly to the same results upon environmental exposure, nor do experimental laboratory animal models absolutely equate with native-state organisms or with humans.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)