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Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) and other brominated compounds are among the most effective and economical flame retardants available, especially for thermoplastics (e.g. high impact polystyrene). They are also used as flame retardants in clothing, electrical appliances, business machines, upholstered furniture, carpet, wall coverings, computer circuit boards and automobile components.

Ironically, as a direct result of the phase-out of leaded gasoline to reduce lead pollution, oil industries and chemical manufacturers found themselves in large excess of bromine production, having to find new uses for it. The increasingly severe flammability standard imposed on plastic products were difficult to meet with the chlorinated flame retardant. This may have been one of the contributing factor to the increased use of brominated flame retardant. PBDEs are a group of compounds related to PCBs with some being more prevalent and bioavailable than others. PBDEs may be the PCBs of the future. Although little is known at this time, like PCBs, PBDEs resist breaking down in the environment, which makes them an environmental concern.

Many studies have been published regarding the concentration of PBDEs in the environment. PBDEs were found in fish, including Lake Michigan salmon, in human breast milk and recently in biosolids used for land application. The possible impact of PBDEs on human health and the environment is still under investigation, but little is known or published about methods of detection.

This presentation provides an overview of the sources of PBDEs, their different forms and uses. It also includes findings of the European Union (EU) regarding the level of PBDE in breast milk, which seemed to be the focus of PBDE's impact on human health. Possible routes of entry to the environment, potential environmental fate, and the analytical method for detecting and quantifying PBDE concentration in solid matrices will be discussed.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2002

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