Brominated flame retardants and endocrine disruption

Joseph G. Vos*, Georg Becher, Martin Van Den Berg, Pim E G Leonards

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

From an environmental point of view, an increasing important group of organo-halogen compounds are the brominated flame retardants (BFRs), which are widely used in polymers and textiles and applied in construction materials, furniture, and electronic equipment. BFRs with the highest production volume are the polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBP-A), and hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD). Because of their persistence and low biodegradation profile, several of the PBDE congeners accumulate in biota and are widely found in the aquatic food chain. Their levels in the environment and in humans have increased during the last decades, in contrast to compounds such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), for example. Humans may be exposed to PBDEs mainly through consumption of fatty food of animal origin (e.g., fish), but exposure through skin contact with textiles protected with flame retardants or through inhalation of BFRs volatilized from electronic and electric equipment may also occur. The levels of PBDEs in Swedish human milk showed a doubling in concentration every five years over the period 1972 to 1997 (2,2′,4,4′-tetraBDE being the predominant congener). The levels of penta- and hexa-BDEs increased at the same rate in ringed seals collected in the Canadian Arctic from 1981 to 2000. PBDEs exhibit a great variety of biological effects, depending on the bromine substitution pattern. PBDEs are potential endocrine disrupters, based on shared toxicity with the structurally related PCBs, polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs), and polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs) (partial aryl hydrocarbon- [Ah-] receptor agonist and antagonist activity in vitro, thyroid toxicity, and immune effects), including developmental toxicity. The potency of TBBP-A to interact with thyroid hormone homeostasis is indicated from in vitro studies in which the compound competes with thyroxin (T4) for binding to transthyretin (TTR). So far, the toxicological profile of many BFRs is too incomplete and insufficient to perform an adequate risk assessment, and further information is required regarding the potential for endocrine disruption of these compounds that are of increasing environmental concern.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2039-2046
Number of pages8
JournalPure and Applied Chemistry
Volume75
Issue number11-12
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2003

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