Class: Brominated Flame Retardants

Chemical Name: Molecular Makeup:[2]

PBDE, Polybrominated Diphenyl Ether


Sources: The PBDE family of chemicals consists of 209 variations, or “cogeners,” with differing numbers of attached bromine ions. These chemicals are used as flame retardants in a variety of consumer products ranging from plastic television cases to textile fibers. In countries where only one type of PBDE is banned, others are generally used in its place until PBDEs are banned entirely. [2] The annual market demand for BFRs is 203,790 metric tons. [2]

Transport Vectors: 49 million pounds of DecaPBDE was added to consumer products in North America in 2001. Products containing PBDEs slowly release them into the air where they are often converted to more toxic forms by sunlight. Due to their prevalence in consumer products, they are ubiquitous throughout America in quantities 10 to 40 times those found in Europe or Japan.[1] PBDEs have a low water solubility and high lipid solubility.[2] BDE-17, a cogener not found at source points, was detected in the air on a Baltic Sea island, indicating that PBDEs are transformed as they move through the environment. Studies have found food responsible for up to 93% of human exposure to PBDEs. [3]

Sample Concentration Levels

Abiotic Media[2]:

House Dust (min/max)

Soil (min/max, dry weight)

Air (min/max)

Sediment (min/max, dry)

.59-34 ug/g [18]
.11-13 ug/g [19]
USA (alt. study):
.78-30 ug/g [20]

.1-3.8 ng/g dry [10]
China (alt. study):
305 ng/g dry [11]
21 ng/g dry (median) [12]
.03-1.9 ng/g dry [13]

Canadian Arctic: 0.4-47 pg/m3 [7]
Baltic Sea:
0.4-79 pg/m3 [8]
3.0-30 pg/m3 [14]

4434-16088 ng/g [15]
30-14395 ng/g [12]
1.7-4 ng/g [16]
.30 ng/g (median) [17]

Biotic Media[3]:

Fish/Sea Life (min-max) ng/g in fat




Switzerland (liver): 16 - 7400
Norway (filet): 21-1215
Norway (liver): 125 - 915
USA (whole): 1395 +- 56
Harbor Seal (US): 1900 – 8300
Harbor Seal (CA): 2900 - 6300

Kestrels: 12,250 ng/g mean lipid weight, BDE-209
Switzerland Blackbird: 14 ng g−1 (median)

Qingdao, China:
.1 – 5.5 ng/g-1 dry [26]
Stockholm, Sweden: .4 - .79 ug kg -1 wet
US Medians, ng/g dry weight:
West: 8.59
East: 5.98
Gulf: 2.17
Great Lakes: 2.53[28]

(US Levels)
Fish: 8.5 – 3078 ppt
Meat: .2 – 1373 ppt
Dairy: .9 – 679 ppt [25]
(Farmed) Rainbow Trout:
.7 – 1.3 ug/kg-1 wet


Blood Serum (US), pg/g:
Blood Serum (World), ng/g: FatTissue,ng/g: Breastmilk, ng/g:
Maine, US:
Min/max: 6.918-59.869[1]
Median(CA & IN):
40.7 [4]
47.5 [5]
22.98 [6]
BDE-47 min-max
USA 2001: 9.2-310 ng/g
USA 99-01: 2.5-205 ng/g[3]
BDE-47 min-max
Sweden: .27 - 8.1
UK: .30 – 180
Mexico: 3.0-14.5
Spain: .3-9.0
China: .5-3.6
Korea: 2.2-12.12
New Zealand: .76-12.7
Belgium: 0.2-3.07 [3]
New York City
Mean: 399
Min/max: 17-9630 [22]
Median: 74
Min/max: 6.2-419 [21]
Sweden Medians
1972: .07
1996: 4.02
2000: 2.8 [24]
Median: 58
Mean: 159
Minimum: 9
Maximum: 1078 [23]

Note the wide range of concentration in human subjects from region to region. A positive correlation has been shown between working with electronics disassembly and PDBE levels. Sweden’s PDBE levels rose exponentially from 1972 to 1996 then began a gradual decline, possibly due to a voluntary ban in the early 1990’s. [3] Note that none of these studies include every PDBE cogener and generally focus on the most common ten or fifteen; as such, actual total amounts of PDBEs present in every sample are higher than reported.

Health effects:


  1. Schmitt, Catherine, Mike Belliveau, Rick Donahue, and Amanda Sears. 2007. Body of evidence - a study of pollution in Maine people. Portland, ME: Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine.
  2. Teclechiel, Daniel. 2008. Synthesis and characterization of highly polybrominated diphenyl ethers. PhD diss., Stockholm University.
  3. Washington State Department of Health. Washington State Polybrominated Diphenyl Ether (PBDE) Chemical Action Plan: Final Plan. (Olympia, WA: Department of Ecology Publications Distribution Office,  2006).
  4. McDonald, T. 2005. Polybrominated diphenylether levels among United States residents: daily intake and risk of harm to the developing brain and reproductive organs. Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management 1:343-354.
  5. Shreder, E. 2006. Pollution in People: A Study of Toxic Chemicals in Washingtonians. Seattle, WA: Toxic-Free Legacy Coalition. <> Accessed on May 7, 2007.
  6. Patten, S. and D. Baltz. 2005. Taking It All In: Documenting Chemical Pollution in Californians Through Biomonitoring. Bolinas, CA: Commonweal Biomonitoring Resource Center.
  7. Su, Y., Hung, H., Sverko, E., Fellin, P., and Li, H. Multi-year measurements of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in the Arctic atmosphere. Atmospheric Environment, 2007, 41, 8725-8735.
  8. Ter Schure, A.F.H., Larsson, P., Agrell, C., and Boon, J.P. Atmospheric Transport of Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers and Polychlorinated Biphenyls to the Baltic Sea. Environ.Sci.Technol.,2004, 38, 1282-1287.
  9. Harner, T., Shoeib, M., Diamond, M., Ikonomou, M., and Stern, G. Passive sampler derived air concentrations of PBDEs along an urban-rural transect: Spatial and temporal trends. Chemosphere, 2006, 64, 262-267.
  10. Zou, M.Y., Ran, Y., Gong, J., Mai, B.X., and Zeng, E.Y. Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers in Watershed Soils of the Pearl River Delta, China: Occurrence, Inventory, and Fate. Environ.Sci.Technol., 2007, 41, 8262-8267.
  11. Xiao, Q., Hu, B., Duan, J., He, M., and Zu, W. Analysis of PBDEs in soil, dust, spiked lake water, and human serum samples by hollow  62 fiber-liquid phase microextraction combined with GC-ICP-MS. J Am Soc mass Spectrom, 2007, 18, 1740-1748.
  12. Eljarrat, E., Marsh, G., Labandeira, A., and Barcelo, D. Effect of sewage sludges contaminated with polybrominated diphenylethers on agricultural soils. Chemosphere, 2007.
  13. Sellström, U., de Wit, C., Lundgren, N., and Tysklind, M. Effect of sewage-sludge application on concentrations of higher brominated diphenyl ethers in soil and earthworms. Environ.Sci.Technol., 2005, 39, 9064-9070.
  14. Wu, N., Herrmann, T., Paepke, O., Tickner, J., Hale, R., Harvey, E., La Guardia, M., McClean, M.D., and Webster, T.F. Human Exposure to PBDEs: Associations of PBDE Body Burdens with Food Consumption and House Dust Concentrations. Environ.Sci.Technol., 2007, 41, 1584-1589.
  15. Luo, Q., Cai, Z.W., and Wong, M.H. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers in fish and sediment from river polluted by electronic waste. Science of the Total Environment, 2007, 383, 115-127.
  16. Song, W., Li, A., Ford, J.C., Sturchio, N.C., Rockne, K.J., Buckley, D.R., and Mills, W.J. Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers in the Sediments of the Great Lakes. 2. Lakes Michigan and Huron. Environ.Sci.Technol., 2005, 39, 3474-3479.
  17. Toms, L.M., Mortimer, M., Symons, R.K., Paepke, O., and Mueller, J.F. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in sediment by salinity and land-use type from Australia. Environ.Int., 2008, 34, 58-66.
  18. Wu, N., Herrmann, T., Paepke, O., Tickner, J., Hale, R., Harvey, E., La Guardia, M., McClean, M.D., and Webster, T.F. Human Exposure to PBDEs: Associations of PBDE Body Burdens with Food Consumption and House Dust Concentrations. Environ.Sci.Technol., 2007, 41, 1584-1589.
  19. Tan, J., Cheng, S.M., Loganath, A., Chong, Y.S., and Obbard, J.P. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers in house dust in Singapore. Chemosphere, 2007, 66, 985-992.
  20. Stapleton, H.M., Dodder, N.G., Offenberg, J.H., Schantz, M., and Wise, S.A. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers in house dust and clothes dryer lint. Environ.Sci.Technol., 2005, 39, 925-931.
  21. Schecter et al., 2003. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in U.S. mother’s milk. Environmental Health Perspectives 111(14): 1723-1729.
  22. Johnson-Restrepo B., 2005. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers and polychlorinated biphenyls in human adipose tissue from New York. Environmental Science and Technology, 39(14): 5177-5182.
  23. Lunder, Sonya and Sharp, Renee. 2003. Toxic Fire Retardants (PBDEs) in Human Breast Milk. Environmental Working Group.
  24. Meironyte, 2002. Organohalogen contaminants in humans with emphasis on polybrominated diphenyl ethers. PhD Thesis. Karolinska Instituted, Stockholm, Sweden.
  25. Schector, Arnold; Päpke, Olaf; Tung, Kuang-Chi; Staskal, Daniele; and Birnbaum, Linda. Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers Contamination of United States Food. 2004. Environ. Sci. Technol.
  26. Jing, Pan; Yang, Yong-Liang; Qing, Xu; Chen Da-Zhou; Xi Dan-Li. PCBs, PCNs and PBDEs in sediments and mussels from Qingdao coastal sea in the frame of current circulations and influence of sewage sludge. Chemosphere.
  27. Lawa, Robin J.; Allchina, Colin R.; de Boer, Jacob; Covaci, Adrian; Herzke, Dorte; Lepom, Peter; Morris, Steven; Tronczynski, Jacek; and deWit, Cynthia A. 2006. Levels and trends of brominated flame retardants in the European environment. Chemosphere 64, issue 2: 187-208.
  28. Sericano, J.1, Wade, T.1, Denoux, G.1, Qian, Y.1, Sweet, S.1, Wolff, G. 2003. NOAA's Status and Trends "Mussel Watch" Program: PBDEs in bivalves from U.S. coastal areas. College Station, Texas. Geochemical and Environmental Research Group - Texas A&M University.