Exponential increases of the brominated flame retardants, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, in the Canadian Arctic from 1981 to 2000

Environ Sci Technol. 2002 May 1;36(9):1886-92. doi: 10.1021/es011401x.


A suite of 37 polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) congeners and all of the homologue groups from mono- to deca-brominated were determined in ringed seal (Phoca hispida) blubber collected from subsistence hunts in the Canadian Arctic in 1981, 1991, 1996, and 2000. Total PBDE (sum(PBDE)) concentrations have increased exponentially over this period in male ringed seals aged 0-15 years. Penta- and hexa-BDEs are increasing at approximately the same rate (t2 = 4.7 and 4.3 years, respectively) and more rapidly than tetra-BDEs (t2 = 8.6 years) and tri-BDEs (t2 = infinity) in this age/sex grouping. In contrast to declining PBDE concentrations since 1997 in human milk from Sweden, sum(PBDE) concentrations in arctic ringed seals continue to increase exponentially similar to worldwide commercial penta-BDE production. PBDE congener profiles in male ringed seals aged 0-15 years from 1991 to 2000 also differ significantly from other aquatic organisms and semipermeable membrane devices collected from temperate coastal regions of British Columbia. While PBDE concentrations are 50 times lower than those of mono-ortho and non-ortho PCBs, and approxiamately 500 times higher than PCDD/Fs, our data indicate that, at current rates of bioaccumulation, PBDEs will surpass PCBs to become the most prevalent organohalogen compound in Canadian arctic ringed seals by 2050.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / chemistry
  • Animals
  • Arctic Regions
  • Canada
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Flame Retardants / analysis*
  • Flame Retardants / pharmacokinetics
  • Male
  • Phenyl Ethers / analysis*
  • Phenyl Ethers / pharmacokinetics
  • Polybrominated Biphenyls / analysis*
  • Polybrominated Biphenyls / pharmacokinetics
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Seals, Earless*
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Flame Retardants
  • Phenyl Ethers
  • Polybrominated Biphenyls