– Environmental Toxins

The long and the short:

  • PBDEs are toxic chemicals that can cause a variety of health problems
  • PBDEs are everywhere, most people have substantial levels in their blood and fat tissue
  • PBDEs were used as flame retardants in furniture: mattresses, couches etc
  • PBDEs continue to be used in electronics: TVs, mobile phones, laptops
  • You can easily reduce your exposure to PBDEs

What are PBDEs?

Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) are a group of chemicals that are used in many modern products for their flame retardant properties. They are commonly used in electrical equipment such as televisions, laptops and mobile phones and in furniture cushioning, carpets and mattresses.

The type of PBDEs used in foam products was ceased in 2005, and it is unlikely that products produced after this time contain PBDEs. The most likely source of continued exposure to PBDEs is products manufactured prior to 2005 including couches, beds, mattresses, car upholstery.

The type of PBDEs in televisions and electrical equipment has not been restricted and continues to be used today. The following manufacturers have publicly committed to phasing out the use of PBDEs in their manufacturing processes. Acer, Apple, Eizo Nanao, LG Electronics, Lenovo, Matsushita, Microsoft, Nokia, Phillips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony-Ericsson, and Toshiba.

PBDEs continue to be emitted from the product throughout its life, meaning that our home becomes a place where almost everyone is exposed to this group of chemicals. The widespread use of PBDEs in everyday consumer products means that it is a widespread group of compounds that can be detected in almost all body tissue including human blood, fat cells and breast milk.

How am I exposed to PBDEs?

A study recently published has looked at the levels of exposure to PBDE across all age-groups and found that the major ways that we come into contact with PBDEs is via ingestion of food containing PBDEs and by absorbing the compounds through our skin from dust-borne particles of PBDEs. A woman who is breast-feeding will also pass-on PBDEs through the breast milk to her baby – giving an infant a high exposure of PBDEs relative to their bodyweight. PBDEs also cross the placenta. Once they are in your body, they can remain for months or years before being metabolised or excreted. They are primarily found in fat stores (adipose tissue).

(Beware losing baby fat when breastfeeding as all these go straight to baby)

PBDEs are thought to cause the following problems:

  • Hormone disruption: reducing androgens
  • Thyroid disruption (reduction in circulating T4)
  • Neurotoxicity with symptoms such as hyperactivity, disrupted learning and memory
  • Reduced Vitamin A
  • Increased Oxidative Stress
  • Impaired Immunity
  • Classified as a possible carcinogen (cancer causing substance)

Further research will help to grow our understanding of the long term impact of these health effects on both humans and wildlife.

What can I do about PBDE exposure?

Preliminary research suggests that anti-oxidants don’t attenuate the effects of PBDEs. The best bet with this one is to reduce your exposure.

  • Use a vaccuum with an HEPA filter to remove dust-bound particles of PBDE
  • An air purifier will remove air-borne particles from the home. Look for devices with a combination of technologies including HEPA. Devices that use Ionizing technology can produce small amounts of ozone and therefore not as desirable as the HEPA type models. If your air purifier has an ioniser that uses ozone, switch off the ozone generator if possible.
  • Be careful when removing old carpet, or if reupholstering old furniture
  • Replace old electric equipment and furniture with products that don’t contain PBDEs. Ask the manufacturer if they use brominated fire retardents in their production process.
  • These are major metabolism down regulators and SIDS assisters.

Further Reading onĀ PBDEs





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