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Pacific Southwest, Region 9

Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations

Children's Health and Polybrominated Diphenyl Ether (PBDE)

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Brominated fire retardants (BFRs) are widely used in a number of consumer products to prevent fire-related injury and property damage. Recently it has been shown that polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), a type of BFR, are persistent in the environment and capable of accumulating in the tissues of animals, fish, and humans.

Whether PBDEs pose a health risk to humans is a major area of current research. These pages are intended to provide more information about research projects underway in the Pacific Southwest. Several reports are available, as well as information about the recent ban of PBDEs in California.

Research and Reports

  • Environment California
  • San Francisco Estuary Institute
    Report on Contaminant Concentrations in Fish from San Francisco Bay, 2002
  • City of Palo Alto, California(PDF) (18pp, 209K, About PDF)
    “Technical Report: Tracking the Fate of Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) at the Regional Water Quality Control Plant. Palo Alto, California”. January, 2004
  • Environmental Working Group
    Results from a study of PBDEs in breast milk of 20 new mothers across the United States. Numerous links and additional information about PBDEs are also available.
  • Links to additional key studies (within EWG report)
  • Toxic Fire Retardants Building up in San Francisco Bay Fish
    In the fall of 2002, EWG researchers collected 22 fish from six of the most commonly eaten species at 10 locations around San Francisco Bay and tested for PBDE levels. EWG also tested for PBDEs in fish samples archived from 1997, and found that in five years, levels of the chemicals had increased in four of six species tested.
  • San Francisco Bay Fish Consumption Study
    A study of fish consumption patterns and demographics among San Francisco Bay anglers.
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  • California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA)
    • Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA)
    • Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC)
    • There are several projects underway in several departments related to PBDEs. A list of publications from CalEPA researchers is available here.

    Publications on PBDEs by CalEPA staff:

    1. Holden A et al. (2003). PBDEs in the san francisco bay area: measurements in fish [Abstract]. Organohalogen Compounds 61:255-258
    2. Hooper K, McDonald TA (2000). The PBDEs: an emerging environmental challenge and another reason for breast-milk monitoring programs. Environ Health Perspect 108(5):387-92.
    3. Hooper, K. and She, J. Lessons from the polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs): precautionary principle, primary prevention, and the value of community-based body-burden monitoring using breast milk. Environ Health Perspect. 2003 Jan; 111(1):109-14.
    4. McDonald TA (2002). A perspective on the potential health risks of PBDEs. Chemosphere 46(5):745-55.
    5. Petreas M, She J, Brown FR, Winkler J, Windham G, Rogers E et al. (2003). High body burdens of 2,2',4,4'-tetrabromodiphenyl ether (BDE-47) in California women. Environ Health Perspect 111(9):1175-9.
    6. She J et al. (2003). High PBDE levels in piscivorous seabird eggs from the San Francisco bay and Washington State [Abstract]. Organohalogen Compounds 61:33-36.
    7. She J, Petreas M, Winkler J, Visita P, McKinney M, Kopec D (2002). PBDEs in the San Francisco Bay Area: measurements in harbor seal blubber and human breast adipose tissue. Chemosphere 46(5):697-707.
  • Review Article - Brominated Flame Retardants: Cause for Concern?
  • Published in Environmental Health Perspectives, January, 2004. Full article available.


In response to concern about the rising concentration of PBDEs in the environment and high levels in the breast milk of Californian women, California legislators passed a bill (A.B. 302, Wilma Chan) to phase out penta- and octa-PBDEs from consumer products by January 1, 2008.

More information on PBDEs

Additional Resources

Environmental Finance Center Region 9 (ECF9) EFC9, affiliated with California State University, is part of a nine-member network of Environmental Finance Centers throughout the United States. This site contains links to conference presentations from the Brominated Flame Retardants and Foam Furniture Conference and Roundtable (April, 2003). EPA National Forum on Contaminants in Fish, San Diego, California, January 28, 2004

“PBDEs-Rising levels in Fish, Tox Review, and the California Ban Presentation available on the web.

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