Human maternal and umbilical cord blood concentrations of polybrominated diphenyl ethers

Chemosphere. 2011 Sep;84(10):1301-9. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2011.05.028. Epub 2011 Jun 12.


Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), widely used as flame retardants in commercial products, have become ubiquitous environmental contaminants. Although adult human exposure to PBDEs is well documented, developmental exposure is less well characterized. The objectives of this study were to measure maternal and fetal exposure to nine PBDE congeners and to investigate potential associations with birth weight. PBDE congeners were quantified in maternal serum at 24-28 weeks of pregnancy, delivery, and umbilical cord serum (UCS) by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC/MS/MS). Complete blood sample sets were obtained from 97 pregnant women (mean age 33.1±0.5 years). PBDE-28, -47 and -99 were quantified in all samples tested and PBDE-47 was the most abundant congener measured in both maternal (mid-pregnancy and delivery samples geometric mean=26.9 and 26.9, respectively) and UCS (GM=56.0 ng g(-1) lipid). The UCS concentration for all congeners with the exception of PBDE-153 was higher vs. maternal delivery samples (p<0.001). Only the UCS concentration of PBDE-17 and -99 were significantly associated (β=-49.860, p=0.032, and β=-3.645, p=0.05) with birth weight. However, after adjustment for potential confounders only the association between PBDE-99 and birth weight remained significant (β=-3.951 and p=0.016). We conclude that: the fetus is exposed to PBDEs from at least the second trimester of pregnancy onward; PBDE congeners are higher in UCS compared to maternal serum samples collected at delivery; and that developmental PBDE exposure is potentially associated with lower birth weight.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Birth Weight
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood*
  • Female
  • Fetal Blood / metabolism*
  • Flame Retardants / metabolism
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / blood*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Maternal Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Ontario
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy Outcome / epidemiology
  • Young Adult


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Flame Retardants
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers