Brominated diphenylethers (PBDE)

BrDPE, Bromerade difenyletrar (flamskyddsmedel)


Brominated diphenylethers (PBDE)

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Chemical formula


 Polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDE) belong to the group brominated flame retardants. There are three commercial PBDE mixtures that have primarily been used: Penta-, Octa- and Deca-bromodiphenylether, where the nomenclature reflects the number of bromine atoms included in the main components in the mixture. All PBDEs are persistent with low degradability but their toxicity and ability to bioaccumulate vary.1


PBDEs are used as additives in flame retardants. Their use is nowadays strictly regulated within the EU. Products that may contain PBDEs include plastic and rubber materials in electric and electronic equipment, building material, textile and furniture upholstery. Polybrominated diphenylethers have never been produced in Sweden but have been imported as pure chemicals, as additives in plastics and rubber raw material or as components in ready-to-use products. The use of Penta- and Deca-BDE within the textile industry ceased in Sweden already during the 1990’s.2

Sources and transportation pathways

Despite the ban on many brominated flame retardants within the EU, these substances are still present in the society, partly because of import of products containing flame retardants and partly because of the use of older products containing flame retardants.3 Leakage of PBDE from products and goods may occur during their entire lifespan, by evaporation and loss of particles. Emissions to the environment may also occur by leakage from landfills. Long-range atmospheric transport is an important transportation pathway; traces of these substances have been detected in various parts of the environment, even far away from potential emission sources.4

Effects on environment and health

Environmental and health effects differ between different BDE groups. Penta-BDE is classified as hazardous to the environment and to health. Long-term exposure by skin contact, inhalation of dust and digestion of contaminated food may cause severe health effects. Young children and certain professions are especially vulnerable. In addition, Penta-BDE is classified as very toxic to aquatic organisms and may cause long-term effects on the environment. Octa-BDE is classified as harmful to the reproductive system and assessed to be persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic. Deca-BDE is persistent and exhibits high potential for bioaccumulation and biomagnification in the food chain.5 6 7

International agreements and regulations

Penta- and Octa-BDE are regulated by the UN Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP). Penta-, Octa- and Deca-BDE are regulated by the UN Stockholm Convention. Polybrominated diphenylethers are regulated by the EU Industrial Emissions Directive (2010/75/EU) and the EU Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC). In addition, the presence of PBDEs in products is regulated by the EU ROHS Directive (2002/95/EC). The UN Protocol on PRTRs and the EU E-PRTR regulation regulate how data on PBDE emissions is made available.