Polybromodiphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) are commonly used flame retardants and are one of the most recent additions to the Stockholm Convention’s POPs list.
A relatively new chemical, identification of PBDE’s in environmental samples didn’t occur until the 1990’s. Among the alarming trends, relatively high levels of PBDEs found in breast milk were increasing, with some of the highest levels being found in the Arctic regions (important trends for countries such as Norway, Finland, Sweden, Canada and Russia).
Concentrations of PBDEs in dust have been found at the part per million level. PBDEs are found in many common household mainstays such as foam in furniture, carpets, and window coverings, and in all our electronics. Most industries voluntarily removed the compound from the marketplace years ago, but the average household still contains significant levels of PBDE. Unfortunately, the highest levels reported for PBDEs come from North America.
Three commercial formulations of PBDEs, penta-BDE, octa-BDE and deca-BDE, are produced for use exclusively as flame retardants. Each formulation consists of a mix of PBDE homologues with different bromination patterns and different physiochemical properties. Deca-BDE accounts for 75% of PBDE production, but the congener profile commonly found in biota is often similar to the penta-BDE commercial product, a mix of tetra-, penta- and some hexa-BDE. Research suggests this biotic congener profile results from a preferential uptake of lower brominated compounds.
PRL has extensive experience testing soil, food, and water, for trace amounts of PBDEs (picogram levels, 10-12 g).