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Tox Town - Environmental health concerns and toxic chemicals where you live, work, and play
Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs)en español
PBDEs are flame-retardant chemicals used in many consumer products.

What are PBDEs?

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are manufactured, flame-retardant chemicals that are used in many consumer products to make them difficult to burn. Products treated with PBDEs have been used in the home, businesses, and the transportation sector. PBDEs are members of a broader class of brominated chemicals used as flame retardants. PBDEs are considered to be persistent organic pollutants (POPs), a group of highly toxic chemicals that are persistent in the environment.

There are three commercial PBDE products: pentaBDE, octaBDE, and decaBDE. DecaBDE and octaBDE are colorless to off-white solids, and pentaBDE is a thick liquid. U.S. production of pentaBDE and octaBDE ceased at the end of 2004. The production, importation, and sale of decaBDE for most uses in the United States were wcheduled to end by December 31, 2012 and for all uses by December 31, 2013.

DecaBDE makes up 82 percent of PBDE products manufactured globally and is used primarily in textiles, electronic equipment, and building and construction materials. It is used in electronics enclosures, such as television cabinets, and casings for audio and video equipment, cell phones, remote controls, personal computers, and computer monitors. It is used in consumer electronics, wire insulation, communication and building cables, stadium seats, lamp sockets, kitchen hoods, pipes, electrical equipment, building and construction plastic panels, and back coatings for draperies and upholstery for sofas, chairs, and office furniture. Because PBDEs are not chemically bound to the products in which they are used, they are more likely to leach out of these products.

PentaBDE has been used in foam for cushioning in upholstery, mattresses, car seats, car seat covers, and car seat headrests. It has been used in foam-based packaging materials, carpet padding, upholstery textiles, epoxy resins used as coatings on circuit boards, electrical wire coatings, rubber, paints, lacquers, and adhesives. OctaBDE has been used in plastics for personal computers, electronic devices, business equipment, and small appliances.

How might I be exposed to PBDEs?

The general population is exposed to PBDEs through the use of consumer products and exposure to high levels of PBDEs found in house dust. Concentrations of PBDEs in human blood, breast milk, and body fat indicate that most people are exposed to low levels of PBDEs. Indoors, you can be exposed by breathing dust or air contaminated with PBDEs, including in rooms with computers, other electronic devices such as television sets, or upholstered furniture. You can be exposed by drinking contaminated water and handling textiles that contain PBDEs. You can be exposed from handling contaminated soil, breathing outdoor air contaminated with PBDEs, or eating contaminated foods, especially those with a high fat content, such as fatty fish or fish and wildlife from contaminated locations. You can be exposed if you live near a hazardous waste site that releases PBDEs into air, soil, or dust.

At work, you can be exposed to PBDEs if you work in the manufacturing of PBDEs or products that contain them or the repair or recycling of products that contain them. You can be exposed if you work in the recycling of computers, disposal of electronic and electrical equipment waste, construction and building, waste disposal, or upholstering. You can be exposed if you work at an incinerator, landfill, or sewage treatment plant.

Because PBDEs readily dissolve in fat, they can accumulate in breast milk and may be transferred to infants and young children. Infants’ and toddlers’ exposure to PBDEs may be greater than that of older children and adults, in part because they may drink breast milk and have increased contact with the floor and house dust.

How can PBDEs affect my health?

There is no definite information about the human health effects of PBDEs. Toxicity testing indicates that PBDEs may cause liver, thyroid, and neurodevelopmental toxicity, according to the EPA. PBDEs are a concern for children’s health, according to EPA’s Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) Action Plan Summary.

If you think your health has been affected by exposure to PBDEs, contact your health care professional.

For poison emergencies or questions about possible poisons, contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

This description is based on the information found in the Web links listed with this topic.


More Links
Flame Retardants: Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) (Center for Environmental Research and Children's Health) (PDF — 196.35 KB)
Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs).ToxFAQs (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)
Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers. Hazardous Substances Data Bank (National Library of Medicine)
Polybrominated Diphenyls Ethers (PBDEs) and Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBBs). Fact Sheet (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Technical Fact Sheet - Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) and Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBBs) (Environmental Protection Agency) (PDF — 127.20 KB)

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Last Updated: November 17, 2014

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