News Brief

Flame-Retardant Chemical Found in All U.S. Coastal Waters

April 29, 2009

Percentage of New Homes Built in Infill Areas

A new EPA study shows infill development making up an increasing share of residential construction in U.S. metropolitan areas.

Image: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) may now be found in all coastal waters of the United States and in the Great Lakes, with elevated levels near urban and industrial areas, according to a report just released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Beginning in the 1970s, PBDEs were widely used as flame retardants in building materials, electronics, furnishings, motor vehicles, plastics, polyurethane foams, textiles, and other consumer goods (see

EBN June 2004). Certain PBDEs have been banned in many European and Asian countries (and largely phased out voluntarily in the U.S.) due to mounting evidence that exposure to PBDEs can lead to impaired thyroid, liver, and neurobehavioral development.

PBDEs are introduced into the ecosystem through runoff from industrial sites, municipal incineration, sewage outflows, and leaching from aging or discarded consumer products. As recently as 1996, the presence of PBDEs in coastal waters was limited to heavily industrial areas, but the chemical is now found even in remote areas, providing evidence that PBDEs may also be transported atmospherically.

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