PBDEs is the shorthand for a class of chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers. PBDEs are one of the most common kind of toxic flame retardant used in common household products and materials such as furniture, electronics, textiles, vehicles, and construction materials.
PBDEs are found ubiquitously in Canadian bodies, in our waterways, and in house dust. For example, in the most recent national biomonitoring studies on flame retardants in Canada, PBDEs were found in 75% of tested Canadians, aged 20-79. This study suggested that “the age group with potentially the greatest exposure [to PBDEs] is 0- to 6-month-old breast-fed infants, with breast milk accounting for 92% of the exposure.” A 2012 study of PBDEs in breast milk in Winnipeg and Sherbrooke found 92% and 96% percent of samples contained detectable levels of PBDEs. Because PBDEs and other flame retardants are ubiquitous, pregnant women and breast-feeding infants cannot avoid low-level exposures that may have significant effects during these important windows of development.
Regulation: PBDEs were designated as toxic by the Canadian Government in 2004, yet their regulation has been slow and incomplete. Canada has been slowly moving to regulate PBDEs through the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA), beginning with the prohibition of the manufacture, use, sale, or import of some PBDEs in 2008 and extending this prohibition in 2016 to all PBDEs. It is important to note that PBDEs have never been manufactured in Canada. These regulations prohibit the use and sale of PBDEs as a product of the chemical industry; however, this regulation also has an important exception that does not extend the prohibition to the import, distribution, or sale of products or parts of components of products that already contain PBDEs. This exception is phrased as such: “[t]hese Regulations do not apply to a product that is formed into a specific physical shape or design during its manufacture and that has, for its final use, a function or functions dependent in whole or in part on its shape or design, if that product contains a polybrominated diphenyl ether [PBDEs].” This is a crucial omission. This exception means that it is not prohibited for an imported product, such as furniture, or a component of a product, like foam that a manufacturer may purchase and then assemble into furniture in Canada, to contain PBDEs. By allowing products with PBDEs to be assembled and sold in Canada, this CEPA regulation does little to stop the exposures from furniture or electronics manufactured elsewhere.
Health Effects: PBDEs are organobromine compounds, and are structurally similar to now-banned PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls) which is a well known persistent toxic chemical. Moreover PBDEs are similar in shape to thyroid hormone, and thus interferes with the hormone activities of the body. Both PBDEs and PCBs biomagnify in the food chain. Prenatal exposure to PBDEs can have adverse impacts on fetal development by altering thyroid function in pregnant women;[i] exposures can impact fine motor skills [ii] and attention, [iii] producing neurodevelopmental deficits,[iv] hyperactivity, [v] as well as low birth weights. [vi] Exposure to PBDEs has also been related to disruptions of sexual and reproductive health. Prenatal exposure in male rats reduced sperm count and quality, decreased sex steroids, reduced anogenital distance (the distance between the anus and genitals in males), and contributed to the delayed onset of puberty, which can also happen following juvenile exposure. Exposure to increased levels of PBDEs in breast milk has been linked to an increased risk of undescended testes amongst boys studied in Finland and Denmark. For female rats, low-dose and high-dose exposures have different results, including a reduction in primary ovarian follicles (at low dose exposure), a reduction in secondary ovarian follicles (in high dose exposure), and delayed onset of puberty (at high dose exposure). Moreover, increased PBDE levels are linked to reduced fertility,[vii] as well as an increase in pre-term births.[viii] Finally, a recent study made links between PBDE exposure, metabolic obesity[ix] and enlarged livers, which can contribute to a host of other health issues, such as: type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, gall bladder disease, sleep apnea as well as certain cancers. [x]
[i] Chevrier, J., Harley, K. G., Bradman, A., Gharbi, M., Sjödin, A., & Eskenazi, B. (2010). Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants and thyroid hormone during pregnancy. Environmental Health Perspectives, 118(10), 1444-1449; Costa, L.G., Giordano, G., Tagliaferri, S., Caglieri, A., & Mutti A. (2008). Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants: environmental contamination, human body burden and potential adverse health effects. Acta Bio-medica, 79(3), 172-183; Dassanayake, R.M., Wei, H., Chen, R.C., & Li, A. (2009). Optimization of the matrix solid phase dispersion extraction procedure for the analysis of polybrominated diphenyl ethers in human placenta. Analytical Chemistry 81(23), 9795-9801; Haddow, J.E., Palomaki, G. E., Allan, W. C., Williams, J. R., Knight, G.J., Gagnon, J., O’Heir, C.E., Mitchell, M.L., Hermos, R.J., Waisbren, S.E., Faix, J.D., &. Klein, R.Z. (1999). Maternal thyroid deficiency during pregnancy and subsequent neuropsychological development of the child. Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey, 55(1), 549-555; Herbstman, J.B., Sjodin, A., Apelberg, B.J., Witter, F.R., Halden R.U., Patterson,D.G., Panny, S.R., Needham, L.L., & Goldman, L.R. (2008). Birth delivery mode modifies the associations between prenatal polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) and neonatal thyroid hormone levels. Environmental Health Perspectives 116(10), 1376-1382; Mazdai, A., Dodder, N. G., Abernathy, M. P., Hites, R. A., & Bigsby, R. M. (2003). Polybrominated diphenyl ethers in maternal and fetal blood samples. Environmental Health Perspectives, 111(9), 1249-1252; Morreale de Escobar, G. M., Obregon, M.J., & Escobar del Rey, F. (2000). Is neuropsychological development related to maternal hypothyroidism or to maternal hypothyroxinemia? Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 85(11), 3975-3987; Noyes, P. D., Haggard, D. E., Gonnerman, G. D., & Tanguay, R. L. (2015). Advanced morphological — behavioral test platform reveals neurodevelopmental defects in embryonic zebrafish exposed to comprehensive suite of halogenated and organophosphate flame retardants. Toxicological Sciences, 145(1), 177-195; Woodruff, T.J., Zota, A.R., & Schwartz, J.M. (2011). Environmental chemicals in pregnant women in the United States: NHANES 2003-2004. Environmental Health Perspectives, 119(6), 878-885; Zota, A.R., Park, J., Wang, Y., Petreas, M., Zoeller, R.T., & Woodruff, T.J. (2011). Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, hydroxylated polybrominated diphenyl ethers, and measures of thyroid function in second trimester pregnant women in California. Environmental Science and Technology, 45(18), 7896-7905.
[ii] Eskenazi, B., Chevrier, J., Rauch, S. A., Kogut, K., Harley, K. G., Johnson, C., Trujillo, C., Sjödin, A., & Bradman, A. (2012). In utero and childhood polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) exposures and neurodevelopment in the CHAMACOS study. Environmental Health Perspectives, 121(2), 257–262; Gee, J., & Moser, V. (2008). Acute postnatal exposure to brominated diphenylether 47 delays neuromotor ontogeny and alters motor activity in mice. Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 30(2), 79-87; Roze, E., Meijer, L., Bakker, A., Braeckel, K. N., Sauer, P. J., & Bos, A. F. (2009). Prenatal exposure to organohalogens, including brominated flame retardants, influences motor, cognitive, and behavioral performance at school age. Environmental Health Perspectives, 117(12), 1953-1958.
[iii] Cowell, W. J., Lederman, S. A., Sjödin, A., Jones, R., Wang, S., Perera, F. P., Wang, R., Raugh, V.A., & Herbstman, J. B. (2015). Prenatal exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers and child attention problems at 3–7 years. Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 52, 143-150; Eskenazi, B., Chevrier, J., Rauch, S. A., Kogut, K., Harley, K. G., Johnson, C., Trujillo, C., Sjödin, A., and Bradman, A. (2012). In utero and childhood polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) exposures and neurodevelopment in the CHAMACOS study. Environmental Health Perspectives, 121, 257–262; Roze, E., Meijer, L., Bakker, A., Braeckel, K. N., Sauer, P. J., & Bos, A. F. (2009). Prenatal exposure to organohalogens, including brominated flame retardants, influences motor, cognitive, and behavioral performance at school age. Environmental Health Perspectives, 117(12), 1953-1958.
[iv] Eskenazi, B., Chevrier, J., Rauch, S. A., Kogut, K., Harley, K. G., Johnson, C., Trujillo, C., Sjödin, A., & Bradman, A. (2012). In utero and childhood polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) exposures and neurodevelopment in the CHAMACOS study. Environmental Health Perspectives, 121(2), 257–262; Herbstman, J., Sjödin, A., Kurzon, M., Lederman, S., Jones, R., Rauh, V., Needham, L.L., Tang, D., Niedzwiecki, M., & Perera, F. (2010). Prenatal exposure to PBDEs and neurodevelopment. Everyday Environmental Toxins: Children’s Exposure Risks, 118(5), 712-719.
[v] Hoffman, K., Adgent, M., Goldman, B. D., Sjödin, A., & Daniels, J. L. (2012). Lactational exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers and its relation to social and emotional development among toddlers. Environmental Health Perspectives, 120(10), 1438-1442; Kuriyama, S. N., Talsness, C. E., Grote, K., & Chahoud, I. (2005). Developmental exposure to low-dose PBDE-99: Effects on male fertility and neurobehavior in rat offspring. Environmental Health Perspectives, 113(2), 149-154; Viberg, H., Fredrikkson, A., & Eriksson, P. (2003). Neonatal exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE 153) disrupts spontaneous behaviour, impairs learning and memory, and decreases hippocampal cholinergic receptors in adult mice. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, 192(2), 95-106.
[vi] Chao, H., Wang, S., Lee, W., Wang, Y., & Päpke, O. (2007). Levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in breast milk from central Taiwan and their relation to infant birth outcome and maternal menstruation effects. Environment International, 33(2), 239-245; Lignell, S., Aune, M., Darnerud, P., Hanberg, A., Larsson, S. C., & Glynn, A. (2013). Prenatal exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) may influence birth weight among infants in a Swedish cohort with background exposure: A cross-sectional study. Environmental Health, 12(1), 44.
[vii] Harley, K. G., Marks, A. R., Chevrier, J., Bradman, A., Sjödin, A., & Eskenazi, B. (2010). PBDE concentrations in women’s serum and fecundability. Environmental Health Perspectives, 118(5), 699-704.
[viii] Behnia, F., Peltier, M. R., Saade, G. R., & Menon, R. (2015). Environmental pollutant polybrominated diphenyl ether, a flame retardant, induces primary amnion cell senescence. American Journal of Reproductive Immunology, 74(5), 398-406; Peltier, M. R., Koo, H., Getahun, D., & Menon, R. (2015). Does exposure to flame retardants increase the risk for preterm birth? Journal of Reproductive Immunology, 107, 20-25.
[ix] Hoppe, A. A., & Carey, G. B. (2007). Polybrominated diphenyl ethers as endocrine disruptors of adipocyte metabolism. Obesity, 15(12), 2942–2950; Patisaul, H.B., Roberts, S.C., Mabrey, N., McCaffrey, K.A., Gear, R.B., Braun, J., Belcher, S.M., & Stapleton, H.M. (2013). Accumulation and endocrine disrupting effects of the flame retardant mixture Firemaster 550 in rats: An exploratory assessment. Journal of Biochemical and Molecular Toxicology, 27(2), 124-136.
[x] Morrissey, M. (Feb. 23, 2015). UNH Research: Flame Retardants Found to Cause Metabolic, Liver Problems. UNH Today. Retrieved from http://www.unh.edu/unhtoday/2015/02/unh-research-flame-retardants-found-cause-metabolic-liver-problems?cmpid=verticalcontent.