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Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs)

What are they?

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are manufactured, flame-retardant chemicals. 

PBDEs are used in many consumer products, including cell phones, remote controls, personal computers, computer monitors, textiles, electronics, and cabinets and enclosures for electronics.

PBDEs are also used in foam cushioning, foam-based packaging materials, upholstery, carpet padding, paint products, and adhesives.

PBDEs are considered to be persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

See also: Trash Factories Food and Cooking Homes Brownfield Air Pollution Drinking Water Learning and Developmental Disabilities Reproductive Health

Where are Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) found?

  • Consumer products – many home, automotive, and electronic products that need to be flame-retardant or difficult to burn
  • Air – house dust from products that contain PBDEs
  • Food and water – contaminated food, especially high-fat foods and fish; drinking water

How can I be exposed to Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs)?

Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) commonly enter(s) the body through:

Ingestion (swallowing)
  • Eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water
Inhalation (breathing)
  • Breathing air or dust contaminated with PBDE emissions
Skin contact
  • Touching products or soil containing PBDEs

What happens when I am exposed to Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs)?

There is no definite information about the human health effects of PBDEs.

Some studies have found that PBDEs can act as endocrine disruptors, and may cause liver, thyroid, and neurodevelopmental dysfunction.

Who is at risk for exposure to Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs)?

  • Consumers
    • Many consumer products contain PBDEs.
  • Infants and young children
    • PBDEs can accumulate in breast milk. 
    • Children have increased contact with the floor and house dust.

Reduce your risk

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

Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling chemicals. For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

  • Do you eat foods with a high fat content, such as fatty fish?
  • Do you breathe air or dust contaminated with PBDEs?
  • Do you use consumer products or fire retardants containing PBDEs?
  • Do you use well water?
  • Replace older consumer products such as TVs, computers, and furniture containing polyurethane foam with new products that do not contain PBDEs.
  • Regularly wash your hands to remove dust containing PBDEs.
  • Regularly vacuum and clean air ducts and filters to reduce indoor dust levels.
  • Use proper ventilation and protective equipment when removing or replacing old carpet that may have PBDEs in the foam padding.
  • Routinely test your well water for PBDEs. 
  • If your well water has high levels of PBDEs, contact your local or state health agency or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for information on how to reduce your exposure.
  • If your well water contains PBDE levels above EPA’s drinking water advisory levels, consider using bottled water for drinking and cooking or install an activated carbon filtration system or reverse osmosis system.
  • Don’t let children play in the dirt near waste sites or factories.
  • Don’t let children eat dirt, and make sure that they wash their hands frequently.
National Library of Medicine Resources and Databases
Additional Resources
  • Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) Factsheet
    State of California
    Factsheet on polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), including sources, associated health concerns, and possible ways to reduce exposure.
  • Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs).ToxFAQs
    Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
    Factsheet with answers to most frequently asked questions about polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) exposure and their effect on human health developed by a federal public health agency that protects communities from harmful health effects related to exposure to natural and man-made hazardous substances.
  • Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) and Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBBs) Factsheet
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    Factsheet on polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), including information on exposure, effects on human health, levels in the US population, and links to additional resources.
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