Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers, or PBDEs, are chemical additives that reduce the flammability of everyday items, such as computer casings, carpet pads, cushions and mattresses. In recent years, scientists have discovered that:
PBDEs leach out of the items to which they were added and enter the environment. PBDEs are showing up in the air, soil and sediment, and are building up in animals throughout the food chain.
PBDEs travel great distances and have been detected in remote regions, turning up even in the bodies of polar bears in the Arctic. PBDEs are being found in everything from meat and dairy products to fruits and vegetables as well as indoor air and household dust. And because some PBDEs don’t break down easily, the levels of PBDEs in the environment are steadily rising.
In lab tests with rodents, some PBDEs have been linked to problems in brain development and thyroid hormones. Most of these problems stem from pre-natal exposure and exposure soon after birth. The health effects appear to be permanent.
PBDE levels in humans are about 10 to 100 times higher in the U.S., the world’s largest producer and consumer of PBDEs, than in Europe. Scientists say North American levels appear to be rising at an exponential rate, doubling every two to five years, while countries that have banned their use have seen levels decrease.
U.S. levels of PBDEs are rising. Studies have found them in human blood, fat and breast milk. Breast-feeding appears to overcome some of the effects of harmful chemicals and remains the healthiest way to feed babies.
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