SPRI Home About SPRI

Brominated diphenylethers - total as Br


SPRI Emission Reporting Threshold
1.00 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Land
10.0 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Air
0.1 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Water
0.1 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Waste Water
This sheet is a generic summary, designed to give the reader a basic level of background information about the substance in question. Great care has been taken to represent as effectively and correctly as possible the broad range of (not necessarily consistent) information which is available from a variety of sources. The reader must accept therefore that this sheet has no legal status and cannot be relied upon in any legal proceedings. SEPA disclaims any responsibility or liability whatsoever for errors and omissions in this sheet.
What is it?
Polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs) are a group of organic (carbon-containing) compounds with similar properties. They are distinguished according to the amount of bromine they contain. The most common commercial grade of PBDE is a thick orange liquid which decomposes above 200 degrees celsius. They are often totally non-flammable and do not evaporate easily. PBDEs are usually insoluble in water, but mix well with oils and organic solvents.
What is it used for?
The main use of PBDEs are as flame retardents - primarily in plastics and foams, but also in consumer goods, domestic applicances and electrical wear.
Where does it come from?
PBDEs may be released during their manufacture, during their addition to other materials or when they are disposed of in landfills or incinerators. They are also slowly released in small amounts from products containing them.
How might it affect the environment?
PBDEs can seriously damage aquatic environments because they are both very toxic to aquatic animals (causing growth and resproductive problems) and they have a strong tendency to perist, travel and accumulate. There is concern at a global level because PBDEs have been detected in animals, water and sediment samples in remote locations far from the sites of emissions.
How might exposure to it affect human health?
The most likely way that most humans might be exposed to PBDEs is through eating contaminated foods. It is not known with certainty how the trace amounts present in the environment could damage human health. There is limited experimental evidence that exposure to PBDEs may damage the liver, the nervous system and the body's hormone system (which regulates a variety of essential functions). Further research is underway to determine these more precisely.
What steps are being taken to limit the potential impacts?
The UK (including Scotland) does not currently have legislation specific to PBDEs. Releases are however controlled through European Directives which will ultimately ban all uses of PBDEs - they have been identified as "priority substances" under the proposed water framework directive. At an international level, PBDEs are listed as candidate substances for inclusion under the OSPAR convention on protection of the marine environment of the north-east Atlantic.