Household exposures to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in a Wisconsin Cohort

Environ Health Perspect. 2009 Dec;117(12):1890-5. doi: 10.1289/ehp.0900839. Epub 2009 Aug 4.


Background: Human exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) is virtually universal in the United States. Although the uses of these chemicals as flame retardants in fabrics, foams, and plastics are well defined, human exposure pathways are not well understood.

Objectives: This study was designed to assess current PBDE body burdens and identify residential sources of exposure among 29 men and 15 women in 38 households.

Methods: Portable X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzers were used to measure bromine levels in upholstered furnishings, bedding, vehicle interiors, and electronic devices. Vacuum cleaner contents, indoor air samples, and blood sera were analyzed for PBDE congeners using conventional gas chromatograph methods.

Results: Bromine levels varied widely within similar household items. The greatest range for upholstered items was found among vehicle seat cushions (7-30,600 ppm). For electronic devices, television sets ranged from 4 ppm to 128,300 ppm. Based on mixed effects modeling, adjusting for couple households, the bromine content in the participants' sleeping pillows and primary vehicle seat cushions were the strongest predictors of log lipid-adjusted blood serum PBDE concentrations (p-values = 0.005 and 0.03, respectively). The total pentaBDE congener levels found in dust samples and in passive air samples were not significant predictors of blood sera levels.

Conclusions: This study demonstrates the usefulness of the portable XRF analyzer in identifying household items that may contribute to human exposure to PBDEs.

Keywords: PBDE; X-ray fluorescence; bromine; passive air sample; vacuum dust.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Air Pollution, Indoor
  • Body Burden
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dust / analysis
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood*
  • Female
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / analysis
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / blood*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Spectrometry, X-Ray Emission
  • Time Factors


  • Dust
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers