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Definition of polybrominated diphenyl ether:
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are a particular class of flame retardant chemicals. These chemicals are often used as flame retardants in plastics for TV cabinets, consumer electronics, wire insulation, personal computers and small appliances. The benefit of these chemicals is their ability to slow the ignition and the rate of fire growth. As a result, they increase the available time to escape in the event of a fire[1].
This is the common definition for polybrominated diphenyl ether, other definitions can be discussed in the article


Polybrominated diphenyl ether

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) are part of the wider group of brominated flame retardants. PBDEs are the most widely utilized group of these flame retardants and can make up 5 to 30% of the weight of plastics. They are mixed into the plastic polymers but are not chemically bound to the plastic, which makes it easy for them to leach into the environment. The number of broom atoms and their positions can vary. This leads to a total of 209 different forms of PBDEs. The form which poses the highest environmental threat is pentabromodiphenyl ether.

They are widespread in the environment, persistent and have been detected in tissues of animals from all marine environments. Like PCBs, PBDEs are strongly hydrophobic and therefore adsorb to particles and lipids causing them to bioaccumulate and biomagnify through food chains, even more so than PCBs. Therefore, the highest concentrations of PBDEs have been measured in marine mammals, fish and sea birds, making them the most vulnerable species for PBDE poisoning. PBDEs are suspected to cause reproductive failures by causing estrogenic effects, as well as cause liver toxicity, thyroid toxicity, and neurodevelopmental toxicity[1] [2] .

In Western countries there is a ban on the manufacturing of these products since 2005[1] [3].

Case studies

Organochlorine pesticides in Harbour porpoises

Possible causes for breading failure in common terns

Flame retardants organotin compounds and surfactants in opossum shrimps of the Scheldt estuary.

PBDE through the entire North Sea food web

Environmental standards and legislation

Included in the OSPAR list of substances of priority action

Included in the water framework list of priority substances

See also

OSPAR background document on brominated flame retardants

Pentabromodiphenyl ether (a PBDE) on the ED North Database


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 www.epa.gov August 3 2009
  2. Michael Martin, Paul K. S. Lam, Bruce J. Richardson, 2004, An Asian quandary: where have all of the PBDEs gone? Marine Pollution Bulletin, 49, 5-6, 375-382
  3. www.leas.ca August 3 2009
The main author of this article is Daphnis De Pooter
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Citation: Daphnis De Pooter (2020): PBDE. Available from http://www.coastalwiki.org/wiki/PBDE [accessed on 22-05-2024]