Legacy and alternative halogenated flame retardants in human milk in Europe: Implications for children's health

Environ Int. 2017 Nov;108:137-145. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2017.08.008. Epub 2017 Aug 24.


In this study, 10 polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and 19 alternative halogenated flame retardants (AFRs) were determined in >450 human milk samples across three European countries, representing northern, western and eastern Europe. This study provides first insights into the occurrence of selected AFRs in mother milk samples and compares them among three European countries. Sums of median concentrations of the most frequently detected PBDEs were 2.16, 0.88 and 0.45ngg-1 lipid weight (lw) in Norway, the Netherlands and Slovakia, respectively. The sum of the concentrations of AFRs ranged from 0.14 to 0.25ngg-1lw in all countries, which was 2 to 15 times less compared to Σ7PBDEs. The Penta-BDE replacement, bis(2-ethylhexyl) tetrabromophthalate, BEH-TEBP, was present at the greatest concentrations of any of the AFRs and in some samples exceeded concentrations of BDE 47 and BDE 153. Four AFRs including bromobenzenes (hexabromobenzene, pentabromobenzene, pentabromotoluene) and another Penta-BDE replacement (2-ethylhexyl-2,3,4,5-tetrabromobenzoate, EH-TBB) were detected in >42% of all human milk samples. Because of the potential developmental neurotoxicity of the halogenated flame retardants, infant dietary intakes via breastfeeding were estimated; in four cases the intakes of BDE 47 exceeded the reference dose indicating that the present concentrations may pose a risk for children.

Keywords: Alternative flame retardants; Developmental neurotoxicants; Human milk; Infant exposure; Polybrominated diphenyl ethers.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breast Feeding
  • Bromobenzenes / analysis
  • Child
  • Child Health*
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Flame Retardants / adverse effects
  • Flame Retardants / analysis*
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / analysis*
  • Halogenation
  • Humans
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Slovakia


  • Bromobenzenes
  • Flame Retardants
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers
  • 2,2',4,4'-tetrabromodiphenyl ether