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A Newly Recognized Occupational Hazard for US Electronic Recycling Facility Workers: Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers

Schecter, Arnold MD, MPH; Colacino, Justin A. BS; Harris, T Robert PhD; Shah, Nirav MBBS; Brummitt, Sharon I. BA

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: April 2009 - Volume 51 - Issue 4 - p 435-440
doi: 10.1097/JOM.0b013e31819b8c09
Original Articles

Objective: To describe a newly recognized US occupational health hazard, polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardant exposure, to US workers at electronics recycling facilities to communicate this information to occupational medicine physicians and related health workers.

Methods: Using PBDE air values reported from a California electronic recycling facility and estimates of US food, air and dust intake, electronic recycling facility workers’ PBDE exposure at this facility was estimated using multiple possible scenarios. We compared these estimates to intake estimates for the US general population. Occupational PBDE study findings from China, Sweden, and Norway where elevated environmental or blood PBDE levels were detected in similar workers are reviewed.

Results: An approximate 6-fold to 33-fold increase in the electronic recycling facility workers’ PBDE exposure was estimated compared with the US general population.

Conclusion: PBDE exposure in US electronic recycling facilities is a largely unrecognized occupational health hazard. The extent of worker exposure in the US should be better characterized and steps taken to lower levels of PBDEs in the workplace where exposure exists. Health care providers, plant safety professionals, and government agencies can play a role in recognizing the problem and in decreasing worker exposure.

From the Division of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, Division of Epidemiology, University of Texas School of Public Health at Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Tex.

CME Available for this Article at

Arnold Schecter and coauthors have no financial interest related to this research.

Address correspondence to: Arnold Schecter, MD, MPH, University of Texas School of Public Health at Dallas, 5323 Harry Hines, V8.112, Dallas, TX 75390-9128; E-mail:

©2009The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine