Brominated (polybrominated)

Flame Retardants

What is this used for?

BFR's are compounds that have an inhibitory effect on the ignition of combustible organic materials. Of the commercialized chemical flame retardants, the brominated variety are most widely used. They are very effective in plastics and textile applications, e.g. electronics, clothes and furniture. BFRs are commonly used in electronic products as a means of reducing the flammability of the product. There are 209 types of PBDEs.

Where can you find them?

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Stockholm Convention

Aims to reduce releases of POPs chemicals on a global basis. The convention entered into force on May 17th, 2004. Many of the countries in the Wider Caribbean Region have signed and/or ratified the Stockholm Convention. BFRs are currently being considered for possible inclusion on the Stockholm Convention. The process involves an initial assessment against criteria to determine the chemical’s persistence in the environment, its ability to bio-accumulate, potential for long-range transport and its adverse effects on human health or the environment.

They are biomagnified toxic compounds, meaning they accumulate within food chains.

They accumulate in fatty tissues of organisms and are passed up the food chain to larger organisms in a process known as Biomagnification. PBDE levels in people double approximately every five years.

PBDEs enter the air, water, and soil when they are put into products or when they exit products as a result of degredation. They biomagnify up the food chain and are stored in fats. They are now ubiquitous in the environment - found from the Arctic to the Antarctic - and are present in all human bodies

Linked to health and cognitive problems

Studies in laboratory animals and humans have linked polybrominated diphenyl ethers (one of the worst type), or PBDEs to...

  • thyroid disruption,
  • memory and learning problems,
  • delayed mental and physical development,
  • lower IQ,
  • advanced puberty
  • and reduced fertility.
  • Other flame retardants have been linked to cancer.
  • At the same time, recent studies suggest that the chemicals may not effectively reduce the flammability of treated products.

This means...

That BFR's are

  • Carcinogenic- causing cancer
  • Mutagenic- induces or increases mutation
  • Teratogenic- causing developmental malformation
  • and Neurotoxic- dangerous to the nervous system

The Cycle

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Biomagnification of Polybrominated flame retardants in the food chain.

As a result of their environmental persistence, PBDEs and HBCD have become frequent

global contaminants. These compounds bioaccumulate in marine food

webs and have been found at high concentrations in top predators

such as arctic marine mammals. The most abundant BFR, brominated diphenyl ether, was found in detectable concentrations in zooplankton, the lowest trophic level. Most of the investigated BFRs biomagnified as function of tropic level in the food chain. A noticeable exception occurred at the highest trophic level, the polar bear, in which only BDE-153 was found to increase from its main prey, the ringed seal, indicating that polar bears appear to be able to metabolize and biodegrade most BFRs. In contrast, lower-brominated PBDEs, showed clear signs of bioaccumulation in zooplankton, polar cod, and ringed seals. Absorption and debromination rates may be more important for bioaccumulation rates of BFRs in zooplankton, polar cod, and ringed seals. This study demonstrates that PBDEs and HBCD have reached measurable concentrations even in the lower trophic levels (invertebrates and fish) in the Arctic and biomagnifies in the polar bear food chain.

How does it spread?

Information is limited on how PBDEs are released from articles to the environment. However, it is believed that PBDEs are released to the air when articles are being manufactured, during the article’s life span, and in small amounts from landfills (by leaching) and emissions (from incineration of waste). More research is needed to understand how these chemicals move to and around the environment.

How can you avoid it?

You can't! Exposure to PBDEs is nearly impossible to avoid due to their ubiquity in the air, water, food, human fat, and breast milk (the fetus is exposed to the toxins in utero as well as from breast milk, which where the toxins are transferred from the mother to the baby.)


  • Bioaccumulation- increase in concentration of a pollutant from the environment to the first organism in a food chain
  • Biomagnification- increase in concentration of a pollutant from one link in a food chain to another
  • Carcinogenic- causing cancer
  • Mutagenic- induces or increases mutation
  • Teratogenic- causing developmental malformation
  • Neurotoxic- dangerous to the nervous system

Work Cited