Environment international

Polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardants in the North American environment.

PMID 12850095


North America consumes over half of the world's production of polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants. About 98% of global demand for the Penta-BDE mixture, the constituents of which are the most bioaccumulative and environmentally widespread, resides here. However, research on the environmental distribution of PBDEs in North America has lagged behind that in Northern Europe. Examination of available governmentally maintained release data suggests that Deca-BDE use in the US substantially exceeds that in Canada. Penta-BDE use probably follows a similar pattern. PBDE demand in Mexico is uncertain, but is assumed to be comparatively modest. Recent research examining air, water, sediment, sewage sludge and aquatic biota suggests that Penta-BDE constituents are present in geographically disparate locations in the US and Canada. The less brominated congeners have been observed in areas distant from their known use or production, e.g. the Arctic. PBDEs have been detected in low concentrations in North American air, water and sediment, but much higher levels in aquatic biota. Increased burdens as a function of position in the food web have been noted. PBDE concentrations in US and Canadian sewage sludges appear to be at least 10-fold greater than European levels and may be a useful barometer of release. In general, PBDE concentrations in environmental media reported in North America are comparable or exceed those observed elsewhere in the world. In contrast to Europe, environmental burdens are increasing over time here, consistent with the greater consumption of the commercial mixtures. However, data remain relatively scarce. Deca-BDE in the North American environment appears largely restricted to points of release, e.g. urban areas and those where PBDE-containing sewage sludges have been applied. This lack of redistribution is likely due to its extremely low volatility and water solubility. Penta-BDE and Deca-BDE products are used in different applications and this may also be a factor controlling their environmental release.