Brominated flame retardants

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The text on this page is taken from an equivalent page of the IEHIAS-project.

There are three major classes of BFRs in Europe:

  • tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA),
  • hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD)
  • three commercial mixtures of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), namely deca-BDE, octa-BDE and penta-BDE.

Europe has banned the use of penta- and octa-BDE in electrical and electronic equipment. Deca-BDE is the main PBDE of concern, and consists of a mixture of 97-98% BDE-209.

Brominated flame retardants as a biomarker

Sample collection and storage


BFRs can be determined in blood and adipose tissue, although breast milk is often preferred


  • Major uptake routes include food (fatty fish, milk products), inhalation of dust particles and directly through aerial exposure
  • TBBPA and DeBDE have very low uptake rates, with 90-99% of the dose eliminated in feces and gut
  • Daily PBDE intake ranges from 0.0001-2.6 µg/kg bw, depending on which congeners considered
  • Half-life of Deca-BDE is 11-18 days, and 2 days for TBBPA

Sampling conditions:

Although routine procedures are appropriate for sampling and storing samples, the omnipresence of BFRs is an obvious contamination risk. Samples are stored at -20°C.

Sample measurement

Analytical aspects:

  • Methods generally are analyzed using GC-MS, with a wide variety of pretreatment, extraction and clean-up procedures
  • LOD in human milk is 0.3-0.7 pg/g milk for PBDEs
  • LOQ is < 10 pg/g serum fat or breast milk for TBBPA and 30-1500 pg/g for HBCD and deca-BDE

Performance characteristics:

  • Analytical reproducibility imprecision is around 25% for Deca-BDE and HBCF.
  • Repeatability is in the range of 5-9% and 1-10% relative standard deviation
  • Reliable quantification of Deca-BDE, HBCD and TBBPA remains a problem, with reported CV% of 63% and 53%


No uniform, internationally accepted guidelines for BFRs in biological matrices developed yet

Confounding factors:

Occupation (e.g. computer work) and diet may be important confounders

Data interpretation

Concentrations reported in literature:

  • BFR concentrations are increasing in the general population, with a doubling of dose every 5 years.
  • Concentrations in North America are 10 times higher than in Europe or Japan

Dose-response/effect relationships:

  • A general lack of high-quality toxicity data on BFRs
  • Acute toxicity is low and no mutagenic potency has been observed.
  • Epidemiological studies generally have not shown adverse effects of occupational exposure

Time trend, geographical variation, susceptibel groups:

  • An exponential increase in BFRs with a doubling time of 5 years
  • Recent data seem to indicate that levels are stabilizing again
  • Apart from occupational exposure, no obvious susceptible groups are identified

See also

Integrated Environmental Health Impact Assessment System
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