Bromine is a component in a family of fire-retardant chemicals known as brominated flame retardants (BFRs). The most widely used BFRs are polybrominated diphenylethers, or PBDEs. While XRF testing cannot confirm the compound in which bromine is present in children's products, detection of bromine at higher levels may indicate the presence of PBDEs or other brominated flame retardants. PBDEs have been in production since the 1970s and have been used heavily in the manufacture of furniture, textiles,and electronics. Two of the commercial formulations, known as pentaBDE and octaBDE, were phased out after a 2004 industry agreement. The third PBDE, known as decaBDE, is still used. Other common BFRs include Tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA) which is commonly used in plastics and circuit boards for electronics, but also in acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS); and Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) which is used in extruded polystyrene for thermal insulation foams and is also applied in the back coating of textiles. More information on PBDE can be found at the ATSDR website and en espanõl.

Health Effects:

PBDEs are persistent toxic chemicals that build up in people and wildlife and contaminate breastmilk and umbilical cord blood.

Depending on the form and level of exposure:

  • Studies in laboratory animals have found that PBDEs profoundly and permanently affect the developing brain at levels close to those in today's most highly exposed women (Ericksson 2001).
  • PBDE exposure may affect thyroid hormone, which is essential for proper brain development in the fetus (Zhou 2002).
  • PBDEs may also cause reproductive problems and birth defects (McDonald 2005, Darnerud 2003).
  • DecaBDE, the most widely used form of PBDE, is classified as a "possible human carcinogen" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (ATSDR 2004).
  • A 2005 study compared levels in people with those that cause toxic effects in laboratory studies, and found that approximately five percent of American women have levels that already exceed those that cause reproductive problems in laboratory animals (McDonald 2005).

Current Regulations for Products

  • U.S. chemical manufacturers have ceased the production of two forms of PBDEs, penta and octa, but have not stopped making deca.
  • Producers of decaBDE announced in December 2009, that they were to phase out production (EPA 2009)
  • Deca has traditionally been used primarily in casings for televisions and electronics.
  • The toy industry has not established a voluntary migration standard for the amount of elemental bromine that can migrate from toys.
  • Four states (Washington, Maine, Oregon, and Vermont) have passed laws to phase out deca-BDE in products sold in the respective states.

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