chemical information


Chemical Class:

Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE)

Chemical SubClass

Heptabrominated diphenyl ether

Manufacturing/Use Status

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

Found in these people:

Anonymous Adult 7, Anonymous Teen 1, Anonymous Adult 9, Anonymous Adult 10, Anonymous Adult 16, Anonymous Adult 18, U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter, Katrina Alcorn, Participant #1, Participant #10, Fred Gellert, Ann Hunter-Welborn, Jesse Johnson, Judi Shils, Participant #18, Lynde Uihlein, Jessica Welborn, Alicia Wittink, Irene Crowe, Martha Davis, Emily Sayrs, Participant #6, Anonymous Teen 22, Anonymous Adult RN9, Sara Corbett, Dr. Beverly Wright, Vivian Chang, Suzie Canales, Cord Blood Sample 13, Cord Blood Sample 14, Cord Blood Sample 16, Cord Blood Sample 17, Cord Blood Sample 19

Found in these locations:

Lamont, FL; Atlanta, GA; San Francisco, CA; Alamo, CA; Upstate New York, NY; Oakland, CA; CA, USA; Belvedere, CA; Encinitas, CA; Ross, CA; VA, USA; Milwaukee, WI; Washington, DC; Littleton, CO; MD, USA; NY, USA; New Orleans, LA; Corpus Christi, TX

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These chemicals were withdrawn from the US market in 2005 due to their toxicity to laboratory animals, and their detection as contaminants in humans, wildlife, house and office buildings and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 flame retardants used in plastics. Break down into more toxic and persistent forms in the environment. Withdrawn from the market in the U.S. in 2005.

PBDE-190 has been found in 33 of the 98 people tested in EWG/Commonweal studies.

Top health concerns for PBDE-190 (References)

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

Results for PBDE-190

PBDE-190 was measured in different units for some of the studies. Overall it was found in 33 of 98 people tested in EWG/Commonweal studies. The bars below are grouped by units:

in blood serum (lipid weight)

Showing results from EWG/Commonweal Study #7, consumer product chemicals in adults and teens, Pollution in Minority Newborns, EWG Study #6, consumer product chemicals in mothers and daughters, Adult Minority Leader Report, EWG Study #3, industrial chemicals and pesticides in adults, Other Body Burden Studies, EWG/Commonweal Study #4, industrial chemicals and pesticides in cord blood, Pets Project, Dateline NBC Families, Dateline NBC Families, EWG Study #8, chemicals in mother and 2 children

EWG/Commonweal results

  • geometric mean: 0.0113 ng/g (lipid weight) in blood serum
  • found in 32 of 78 people in the group
ng/g (lipid weight) in blood serum 0.782

PBDE-190 results

in breast milk (lipid weight)

Showing results from EWG Study #2, flame retardants in breast milk

EWG/Commonweal results

  • found in 1 of 20 people in the group
ppb (lipid weight) in breast milk 0.01

PBDE-190 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.