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
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).
DecaBDE, the most widely used form of PBDE, is classified as a "possible
human carcinogen" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (ATSDR
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
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.