PDBEs: Where Do They Come From And What Are They Doing To Us?

cute polar bear photo

PBDEs are even bio-accumulating in cute polar bears. Image: Flickr, Just Being Myself

Almost three years ago, John listed some of the suspected problems with polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants, including being an endocrine disruptor and impairing thyroid functioning. Last week, John and Cara wrote wrote about how researchers found the likelihood of conceiving in a given month was cut in half if a woman had high PBDE levels in her blood.

So what are they, why are they there, how do they get into us and what do we replace them with?

What is the problem?

pdbe-plastic photo
E/The Environmental Magazine

Flame-retardants are in widespread use in both the U.S. and Canada, primarily in carpet padding, foam cushions, polyester bedding and clothing, wallpaper, and the plastic housings for computers, faxes and other electronics. Most are made from variations of a chemical known as PBDE, which stands for polybrominated diphenyl ether.

PBDEs are "persistent" in that they don't break down but remain active in our air, water, soil and food. WSDE says that PDBEs are building up in animals throughout the food chain, even turning up in orca whales in Puget Sound in Washington and in the bodies of polar bears in the Arctic.

More in TreeHugger: Earthtalk :: Fire Retardant Dangers

They are in our cats.

roundup pdbe image

If you've got cats or kids crawling around on rugs and furniture, lets do the good news part first...natural fiber area rugs, natural flooring materials, and natural fiber upholstered furniture items are, in general, are very fashionable. And green. A little bad news though: those cat scratch things made of old carpet ends are perhaps not so good.

More in TreeHugger: Petroleum Furnishings Give Kitties and Kiddos Higher PBDE Exposures

They may be killing our cats.

pdbe killing cats roundup

Did living in California doom biophysical chemist Arlene Blum's cat, Midnight, to a premature death? Midnight's untimely demise was possibly due to toxic chemicals in her furniture, writes Blum in The Los Angeles Times. "In two years with hyperthyroid disease, Midnight went from a plump 14 pounds to a skeletal five," she adds. "A year ago, a veterinary epidemiologist found that Midnight's blood contained among the highest levels of PBDEs documented in animal research. That's when I learned that the chemicals in my cat came from my couch. And that my furniture is uniquely toxic because I live in California."

More in TreeHugger: Did the State of California Kill This Woman's Cat?

They are in birds.

birds pbde photo

The eggs of peregrine falcons living in California's big cities contain some of the highest levels ever found in wildlife of a flame retardant used in consumer products, a new study has found.

More in TreeHugger: DDT Redux: PBDEs In Peregrine Falcons Close To Levels Damaging Developing Lab Rats & Mice

They are in our dust bunnies.



If there's a lot of PDBEs in you, or in your kids, odds are it happened from breathing and touching the dust in your house. How did it get into the house dust? That's exactly the question researchers are trying find a precise answer to.

More in TreeHugger: Blood Levels Of Flame Retardants Correlate With House Dust Exposure

The bunnies pass on the chemicals to children and are found in breast milk, can cause thyroid problems and newborn mice exposed to PBDEs have learning and motor-skill problems. Les Moutons, They Are Full of Fire Retardants

They are in our mattresses.

john yoko mattresses

Mattresses are often made from polyurethane foam that can emit VOCs. They were also treated with fire retardants like PDBE and now have some of the newer chemical retardants for which the jury is still out.

More in TreeHugger: What Lies Beneath: The Flat-Out Truth About Mattresses
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