Seveso Women's Health Study

Seveso Logo and Research Team at Conference Banner

On July 10, 1976, a reactor explosion in a chemical plant in Seveso, Italy spread over 30 kg of dioxin and other chemicals over an 18 square kilometer area, resulting in the highest residential human exposure to dioxin ever recorded. This accident resulted in high animal mortality and over 193 cases of chloracne (an acne-like skin condition specific to dioxin exposure) were reported.

The Seveso Women’s Health Study (SWHS) is a historical cohort study investigating the effects of dioxin exposure on the health of women exposed during a 1976 industrial accident in Seveso, Italy. We investigate the impacts of dioxin exposure on the health of women who were living in Seveso at the time of the accident. We also investigate the impacts of in utero dioxin exposure on their children born after the explosion.

The study has collected data in three phases, roughly 20, 30 and 40 years after the explosion (1996-98, 2008-2009, 2014-2016). In the first phase, starting in 1996, we used measurements of dioxin levels in blood samples collected soon after the explosion to examine health effects on 981 Seveo women. Starting in 2008, we did a second phase of follow-up.In the third and most recent follow-up, started in 2014, we included both the Seveso women and their children born after the explosion (Seveso Second Generation).

Seveso Memorial Park and Affected Zone Map

(Photo: Regione Lombardia) 

Health Outcomes Studied: 

The SWHS Cohort

  • Birth outcomes
  • Menarche and menstrual cycle
  • Ovarian function
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Endometriosis
  • Fertility
  • Menopause
  • Thyroid function
  • Cancer
  • Obesity and metabolic syndrome
  • Diabetes
  • Bone mineral density
  • Physical and cognitive function

Study at a Glance: 

  • Study Objectives: To characterize potential harm associated with women's exposure to dioxin

  • Geographic Area: Seveso, Italy (~25 km North of Milan)
  • Participants: 981 women living in Seveso in 1976 and their children (~955) born after the explosion

  • Study Tools: Blood samples, interviews, medical exams, medical records

  • Principal Investigator: Dr. Brenda Eskenazi

  • Funders: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Endometriosis Association, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Regione Lombardia and Fondazione Lombardia Ambiente, Milan, Italy

Second Generation Cohort:

  • Birth outcomes
  • Thyroid function
  • Obesity and metabolic syndrome
  • Menarche and menstrual cycle
  • Neurodevelopment
  • Fertility
  • Gene-environment interactions