Polybrominated diphenyl ethers: Potential human exposure through household dust and dryer lint

Vijayalakshmi Ramakrishnan, The University of Texas School of Public Health


This MPH thesis consists of (1) literature review of the relatively new synthetic persistent organic pollutants (POP), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), a type of flame retardant posing a potential public health hazard, (2) Presentation of data on PBDE levels in dryer lint from Dallas, TX and Hamburg, Germany. PBDEs are used as additive fire retardants in plastics, polyurethane foam and electronic equipment to reduce flammability and thus save life and property. PBDEs have been widely used beginning in the 1970s. They resemble polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in structure and toxicity. PBDEs are found in environmental sediments, sludges, and wildlife and even in human blood, milk and tissues. PBDEs, due to their lipophilicity, accumulate in fat and other tissues and biomagnify up the food chain, with increasing concentrations. Animal studies have suggested potential health effects including thyroid disruption, permanent learning and memory impairment, fetal malformations, developmental neurotoxicity and, at high doses, possibly cancer. PBDE levels are increasing in blood and breast milk in North America, but PBDEs intake unlike PCBs appears to be not primarily through food; food PBDE levels in the U.S. are not markedly higher than in Europe yet U.S. human blood and milk levels are much higher. For this reason various exposure pathways including PBDE contaminated dust and air have been studied to better characterize routes of PBDE intake into humans. The scientific literature on PBDE levels in household dust reports higher PBDE concentration in dust than that found in dryer lint; levels in the U.S are elevated compared to other countries with congeners such as BDE 47, 99, 100 and 209 predominating. The United Kingdom has elevated BDE 209 due to high usage of Deca commercial mixture. These studies suggest that indoor PBDE contamination through household dust could be a potential source of PBDE exposure and body burden especially in young children. PBDE levels in dryer lint from U.S ranged from 321 to 3073 ng/g (Mean: 1138 ng/g, Median: 803 ng/g) and from Germany were from 330 to 2069 ng/g (Median: 71ng/g, Mean: 361 ng/g). High median levels in U.S samples indicate contamination of lint with PBDEs although the source of the PBDEs in lint may be from dryer electrical components or air deposition onto clothes, lint may be one source of PBDE exposure to humans.

Subject Area

Public health|Environmental science

Recommended Citation

Ramakrishnan, Vijayalakshmi, "Polybrominated diphenyl ethers: Potential human exposure through household dust and dryer lint" (2007). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI1447166.