Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in aborted human fetuses and placental transfer during the first trimester of pregnancy

Environ Sci Technol. 2013 Jun 4;47(11):5939-46. doi: 10.1021/es305349x. Epub 2013 May 14.


Data on early human fetal exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) is limited. However, early pregnancy, in particular the first trimester, is critical for fetal development. We investigated exposure to PBDEs and placental transfer during early pregnancy by analyzing PBDEs in paired aborted fetuses (n = 65), placentas (n = 65), and maternal blood samples (n = 31) at 10-13 weeks gestation, which were collected in a hospital near electronic wastes (e-wastes) recycling sites in Taizhou, China. Mean total PBDE (∑PBDE) concentrations were 4.46, 7.90, and 15.7 ng/g of lipid weight (lw) in the fetuses, placentas, and blood, respectively. The three matrices had roughly similar PBDE congener profiles, dominated by BDE-209, BDE-197, BDE-153, BDE-47, and BDE-28. Significant correlations were found between ∑PBDE concentrations in the paired matrices. Comparing the concentration ratios between the paired samples, we observed significantly higher fetus/blood and fetus/placenta ratios for BDE-28, BDE-99, and BDE-47 than for BDE-197, BDE-209, and BDE-153, while opposite results were found in placenta/blood ratios. Our results indicate that PBDEs can enter the fetus during the first trimester and low-brominated congeners cross the placenta more easily than high-brominated congeners, which tend to remain in the placenta. This phenomenon is consistent with findings at the end of pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced
  • Adult
  • China
  • Electronic Waste
  • Female
  • Fetus / chemistry*
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / analysis*
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / blood
  • Humans
  • Maternal Exposure
  • Placenta / chemistry*
  • Polybrominated Biphenyls / analysis
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, First
  • Young Adult


  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers
  • Polybrominated Biphenyls
  • 2,2',4,4'-tetrabromodiphenyl ether
  • 2,2',3,3',4,4',6,6'-octabromodiphenyl ether
  • tribromodiphenyl ether 28