Persistent Toxic Chemicals: PBDEs
Answers to questions about toxic flame retardants (PBDEs).
What are PBDEs, and what are their health impacts?
PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, are industrial toxic chemicals used for more than 30 years to retard flames in consumer electronics, furniture, and mattresses. There are three common mixtures of these chemicals: penta, octa, and deca.
- Penta and octa are no longer produced in the United States, but millions of pounds remain in homes, offices, and the environment due to extensive use in consumer products.
- Deca is still used widely, with about 50 million pounds a year in the United States used primarily in television casings. Demand for deca is expected to grow because it can now be used to meet new federal fire-safety standards for mattresses.
PBDEs impair memory, learning, and behavior in laboratory animals at very low levels. They may also affect thyroid hormones and reproduction. Most at risk are developing fetuses, infants, and young children. There is strong scientific evidence that levels of PBDEs are rising rapidly in the environment and in human bodies, particularly in North America, where the use of PBDEs is the highest. Click here to learn more about PBDEs and Washington Toxics Coalition’s work to eliminate their use in Washington state. Click here to learn about the levels of PBDEs found in Washington residents.
What consumer products contain PBDEs? How do I find safer alternatives?
PBDEs can be found in furniture, mattresses, electronics such as televisions, and carpet padding. See these tips from the Pollution in People website on finding safer alternatives:
- Building materials (including carpeting)