Factsheet courtesy of the Washington Toxics Coalition.
PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, are industrial toxic chemicals, used for more than 30 years, to retard flame in consumer electronic plastics, furniture, and mattresses.
There are three common mixtures of these chemicals — penta, octa, and deca.
A number of studies have found PBDEs in house dust as well as indoor air, which is considerably more contaminated with these chemicals than outdoor air. It is likely that PBDEs migrate out of products like furniture and electronics and wind up in house dust. Studies in the U.S., Europe, and Asia have found PBDEs in fish, meat, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and infant formula.
Eight U.S. states have passed legislation to ban Penta and Octa PBDEs, and several states have passed laws to ban Deca including Vermont, Washington, Oregon, and Maine. Legislation is pending in several other states.
In December 2009, the only two U.S. makers of Deca and the largest importer of Deca voluntarily agreed to stop producing and importing Deca for most uses by 2011, and to stop producing and importing the chemical for all uses by 2013. Despite the voluntary phaseout, government bans are critical to ensure the agreement is enforceable and any chemical flame retardant substitutes are safer. Specifically:
You can take the following steps to reduce your family’s exposure to PBDEs:
Buy PBDE-free furniture. Choose furniture that does not contain PBDEs, which are often used in furniture upholstery and foam. Retailers offering PBDE-free products include:
For more information on companies offering PBDE-free products, see:
If you cannot find information on whether a manufacturer uses PBDEs, contact the company directly.
If you already own furniture that contains PBDEs, cover and seal any rips in upholstery, and consider replacing old items where foam is exposed, loose, and crumbling. Cover mattresses with allergen-barrier casings to reduce the amount of PBDE-laden dust that they release.
Make electronics PBDE-free. Choose electronics made with alternatives to PBDEs and other flame retardants, available from Apple and Sony. See Greenpeace's Guide to Greener Electronics for up-to-date information on companies.
Avoid farmed fish. European and U.S. farmed salmon have particularly high levels of PBDEs. Choose wild salmon instead.
Reduce animal fats. Choose lean meat and poultry cuts and low-fat dairy products. Cut visible fat off meat and poultry before cooking, and choose lower-fat cooking methods, such as broiling, grilling, roasting, or pressure-cooking.