Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) exposure in North Americans: Cause for concern?

Nirav C Shah, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are brominated flame retardants (BFRs) that have been widely produced and used as flame retardants since the 1970’s in many consumer products such as carpet and drape linings, plastics used in electronics, computer and television casings and polyurethane foam used in chairs, sofas and mattresses. PBDEs are persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which, by definition, are toxic in nature, persistent in the environment and accumulative in living organisms. Animal studies have found PBDEs to cause health defects such as fetal malformations, delayed onset of puberty, decreased sperm count, behavioral changes, permanent learning and memory impairment, endocrine disruption, as well as cancer at high doses. Recent research involving humans reported that elevated breast milk PBDEs levels in their mothers are associated with cryptorchidism (absence of one or both testes from the scrotum) in newborn boys and adverse birth outcomes as well as elevated serum PBDE levels in mothers are associated with low sperm count in young men. There are three commonly manufactured PBDE commercial mixtures: Penta-, Octa-, and Deca-BDEs. Two of them (Octa- and Penta-BDEs) have been banned by the European Union and are being voluntarily phased out in the United States. However, Deca continues to be manufactured, used, and imported in the United States. This MPH thesis consists of a literature review of peer reviewed scientific articles concerned with PBDEs in the environment and in humans, as well as a discussion concerning different routes of exposure to PBDEs and their blood, milk and tissue levels as surrogates for body burdens in North Americans and in people from other countries. Results of this literature review shows PBDE levels in human blood, milk and tissues are higher in North Americans than people from other countries worldwide. To date, the highest level of PBDEs was found in a toddler’s blood in a California study. Despite the fact that PBDEs are associated with adverse health effects, and highest levels of PBDEs in North Americans, Deca-BDE is still manufactured, used and imported in the United States. There is an urgent need of new federal regulatory policy to ban completely the production, importation and use of all commercial mixtures of PBDEs.

Subject Area

Environmental Health|Public health

Recommended Citation

Shah, Nirav C, "Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) exposure in North Americans: Cause for concern?" (2010). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI1474587.