PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, are used in anything from electronics to clothing and baby toys to reduce flammability of those products.
While those chemicals keep material from burning easily, they can have harmful effects on people and animals.
Dr. Arnold Schecter is an environmental scientist with the University of Texas School of Public Health at Dallas. He has studied PBDEs and their effects for years.
“The first study was looking at flame retardants in nursing mothers’ breast milk here in Texas, and we discovered that every mother we looked at had a type of flame retardant called PBDE and levels were higher than had ever been reported elsewhere worldwide.”
He and his co-researchers found that those chemicals most likely come from household dust and common foods. Schecter says flame retardants break off from products and end up in the environment and in people. He says that’s reason to worry.
“They can cause problems in children, they shorten pregnancy, lower birth weight, prematurity, and they can cause endocrine disruption. They affect thyroid hormones and in some cases hormones connected with male or female sexual development.”
Schecter found that the levels of PBDEs have gone up dramatically in the last decades. While the chemicals are used less than they used to be in the United States and Europe, Schecter says it’s going to be decades until a decline of PBDEs in the environment will be detected.