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Environ Int. 2009 Apr;35(3):655-66. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2008.11.001. Epub 2008 Dec 18.

Polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardants in the U.S. marine environment: a review.

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  • 1Geochemical and Environmental Research Group, College of Geosciences, Texas A&M University, 833 Graham Road, College Station, TX 77845, USA.


Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are used as flame retardants in polymeric materials such as furnishing foam, rigid plastics and textiles. The U.S. has historically led the world production of these man-made chemicals and was responsible for about 50% of the total global demand in 2001. Paradoxically, scientific studies addressing sources, behavior and fate of PBDEs in the U.S. environment are limited when compared to those in Europe. This paper reviews the distribution of PBDEs in marine and estuarine matrices of the three U.S. coasts (Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico) and Alaska. PBDEs are ubiquitous in all compartments including water, sediment and biota. Contamination is higher in urbanized regions such as the coast of California. In numerous cases, concentrations of PBDEs in U.S. marine matrices are among the highest in the world. Higher PBDE levels in the U.S. marine environment reflect that over 90% of the Penta-BDE global production has been utilized in the United States. BDEs 47, 99 and 100 typically dominate the composition of PBDEs in most samples and exhibit high concentrations in several matrices. BDEs 17, 28, 33, 49, 153, 154 and 155 are also of concern since they are known to be present in a minor proportion in the Penta-BDE products. BDEs 206, 207, 208 and 209 which occur in Deca-BDE products do not appear to accumulate in most marine organisms although they may be debrominated into more toxic congeners. There is still no regulation addressing PBDEs contamination in the U.S. aquatic environments. Thus, efforts to understand the cycling of PBDEs in the environment as well as toxic effects in organisms are needed to support the development of quality criteria. Some PBDE congeners fulfill the criteria to be recognized as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). The addition of PBDEs to the list of POPs established by the United Nations Stockholm Convention will be important in elevating environmental concerns regarding these chemicals to an appropriate level of awareness.

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