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Polybrominated Diphenyl Ether Flame Retardants in the U.S. Population: Current Levels, Temporal Trends, and Comparison With Dioxins, Dibenzofurans, and Polychlorinated Biphenyls

Schecter, Arnold MD, MPH; Päpke, Olaf MS; Tung, Kuang Chi; Joseph, Jean MBBS; Harris, T Robert PhD; Dahlgren, James MD

Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine: March 2005 - Volume 47 - Issue 3 - pp 199-211
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Brominated flame retardants have come into common use in the United States during the past 3 decades. This study reports levels of polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants in blood from the U.S. population at the present time and 30 years previously and also current human milk levels. This is also the first study to report measured congeners and dioxin toxic equivalents (TEQs) of dioxins, dibenzofurans, and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from archived, 1973, blood and compare them with current levels. The findings indicate there have been significant changes in levels of each class of these persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in U.S. human blood. Although dioxin, dibenzofuran, and PCB levels are markedly higher in the 1973 blood, the opposite is true for PBDEs. Furthermore, unlike dioxins, dibenzofurans, and PCBs, which increase with age, there was no significant correlation found in our study between PBDE levels and age. Current total PBDE levels in U.S. blood are the highest reported worldwide to date, with 2 pooled samples (N = 100 each) measuring 61.7 and 79.7 parts per billion (ppb) lipid, and in a series of 39 individual analyses, the range was 4.6 to 365.5 ppb with a median of 29 ppb and a mean of 52.6 ppb. The median for women in this study was 43.3 ppb, and for men it was 25.1 ppb. Although women have a higher level of PBDEs in blood than men, in our study, this is not statistically significant. Blood levels are similar to levels in U.S. human milk from 59 women, 6.2 to 418.8 ppb lipid. Levels of PBDE in pooled 2003 serum are far higher at 61.7 ppb than in 1973 archived pooled serum in which almost no PBDEs were quantified, although the estimated level using half the detection limit for nondetects was 0.77 ppb. Although no human health studies have been conducted on PBDEs, they are of concern because in vivo and in vitro animal studies show nervous system, reproductive, developmental, and endocrine effects, as well as cancer in high-dose studies.

From the University of Texas School of Public Health, Dallas Campus (Dr Schecter, Mr Tung, Dr Joseph, Dr Harris); ERGO Research Laboratory; Hamburg, Germany (Mr Papke); and the University of California at Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine, California (Dr Dahlgren).

Address correspondence to: Arnold Schecter, MD, MPH, University of Texas School of Public Health Dallas Campus, 6011 Harry Hines Blvd., V8.112, Dallas, TX 75390; E-mail:

©2005The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine