chemical information


Chemical Class:

Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE)

Chemical SubClass

Hexabrominated diphenyl ether

Manufacturing/Use Status

use/production has been voluntarily discontinued in the U.S.

Found in these people:

Susan Comfort, Anonymous Child #42, Katrina Alcorn, Ruby Alcorn, Greta Hardin, Tavin , Teri Olle, Natalie Comerford, Jennifer Scheinz, Elijah Scheinz, Hillary Dickman, Brynn Dickman, Laurie Yung, Conner Adams, Erika Schreder, Hannelore Peters, Christi, Lauren, Susanne Fleek, Mckenzie Green, Anonymous Mom #11, Anonymous Child #11, Laura Spark, Naomi Carrigg, Tess, Nicolas, Mary Brune, Olivia Brune, Bronwyn, Teo, Anonymous Mom #17, Anonymous Child #17, Tracy Herndon, Zade Little, Maija West, Eva West, Liz, Evan

Found in these locations:

Washington, DC; Oakland, CA; Lake Forest Park, WA; San Francisco, CA; Helena, MT; Colorado Springs, CO; Missoula, MT; Seattle, WA; Minneapolis, MN; Anchorage, AK; Boston, MA; Portland, OR; Alameda, CA; Riverside, CA; Taos, NM; Clinton, CT

Exposure routes:

Fire retardant in foam furniture, carpet padding, computers, televisions. Pollutant in house dust, food.


PBDEs are brominated fire retardants, intentionally added to flexible foam furniture--primarily mattresses, couches, padded chairs, pillows, carpet padding and vehicle upholstry.

These chemicals were withdrawn from the US market in 2005 due to their toxicity to laboratory animals, and their detection as contaminants in humans, wildlife, house and office buildings and common foods. (Sjodin 2003) People are primarily exposed to PBDEs in their homes, offices and vehicles. Secondary sources are foods, primarily meat, dairy, fish and eggs. (Schecter, Papke et al. 2005)

Studies of laboratory animals link PBDE exposure to an array of adverse health effects including thyroid hormone disruption, permanent learning and memory impairment, behavioral changes, hearing deficits, delayed puberty onset, decreased sperm count, and fetal malformations. (Darnerud 2003; Hale R.C. 2003) Research in animals shows that exposure to brominated fire retardants in-utero or during infancy leads to more significant harm than exposure during adulthood, and at much lower levels.(Viberg H 2006)

PBDEs are bioaccumulative and lipophilic ('fat-loving') therefore highly persistent in people and the environment. The chemicals build up in the body, are stored in fatty tissues and body fluids, such as blood and breast milk, and can be passed on to fetuses and infants during pregnancy and lactation. Despite their phase-out from commerce, human exposure will continue for decades to come.


Brominated fire retardants used in foam and plastics. Break down into more toxic and persistent forms in the environment. Withdrawn from the market in the U.S. in 2005.

PBDE-154/PBB-153 has been found in 38 of the 38 people tested in EWG/Commonweal studies.

Top health concerns for PBDE-154/PBB-153 (References)

health concern or target organ weight of evidence
Reproduction and fertilityunknown
Brain and nervous systemunknown

Results for PBDE-154/PBB-153

in blood serum (lipid weight)

Showing results from EWG Study #9, flame retardants in mothers and children

EWG/Commonweal results

  • geometric mean: 2.48 ng/g (lipid weight) in blood serum
  • found in 38 of 38 people in the group
0.45 ng/g (lipid weight) in blood serum 15.4

PBDE-154/PBB-153 results

Detailed toxicity classifications (References)

classification governing entity/references
Reproductive effects - weight of evidence unknown/unassessedMcDonald, T. A. (2002). A perspective on the potential health risks of PBDEs. Chemosphere 46: 11.
Nervous system toxicity - weight of evidence unknown/unassessedViberg, H., Fredriksson, A., Jakobsson, E., Orn, U., Eriksson, P. (2003). Neurobehavioral derangements in adult mice receiving decabrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE 209) during a defined period of neonatal brain development. Toxicol Sci 76(1): 112-20.