Hexabromocyclododecanes (HBCDs) in the environment and humans: a review

Environ Sci Technol. 2006 Jun 15;40(12):3679-88. doi: 10.1021/es0602492.


Hexabromocyclododecanes (HBCDs) are brominated aliphatic cyclic hydrocarbons used as flame retardants in thermal insulation building materials, upholstery textiles, and electronics. As a result of their widespread use and their physical and chemical properties, HBCDs are now ubiquitous contaminants in the environment and humans. This review summarizes HBCD concentrations in several environmental compartments and analyzes these data in terms of point sources versus diffuse sources, biomagnification potential, stereoisomer profiles, time trends, and global distribution. Generally, higher concentrations were measured in samples (air, sediment, and fish) collected near point sources (plants producing or processing HBCDs), while lower concentrations were recorded in samples from locations with no obvious sources of HBCDs. High concentrations were measured in top predators, such as marine mammals and birds of prey (up to 9600 and 19 200 ng/g lipid weight, respectively), suggesting a biomagnification potential for HBCDs. Relatively low HBCD concentrations were reported in the few human studies conducted to date (median values varied between 0.35 and 1.1 ng/g lipid weight). HBCD levels in biota are increasing slowly and seem to reflect the local market demand. One important observation is the shiftfrom the high percentage of the gamma-HBCD stereoisomer in the technical products to a dominance of the alpha-HBCD stereoisomer in biological samples. A combination of factors such as variations in solubility, partitioning behavior, uptake, and, possibly, selective metabolism of individual isomers may explain the observed changes in stereoisomer patterns. Recommendations for further work include research on how HBCDs are transferred from products into the environment upon production, use, and disposal. Time trends need to be analyzed more in detail, including HBCD stereoisomers, and more data on terrestrial organisms are needed, especially for humans. Whenever possible, HBCDs should be analyzed as individual stereoisomers in order to address their fate and effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis*
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood*
  • Flame Retardants / analysis
  • Food Chain
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons, Brominated / analysis*
  • Hydrocarbons, Brominated / blood*
  • Stereoisomerism


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Flame Retardants
  • Hydrocarbons, Brominated
  • hexabromocyclododecane