A Human Mixture Risk Assessment for Neurodevelopmental Toxicity Associated with Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers Used as Flame Retardants

Environ Health Perspect. 2017 Aug 23;125(8):087016. doi: 10.1289/EHP826.


Background: The European Food Safety Authority recently concluded that the exposure of small children (1-3 y old) to brominated diphenyl ether (BDE)-99 may exceed acceptable levels defined in relation to neurodevelopmental toxicity in rodents. The flame retardant BDE-209 may release BDE-99 and other lower brominated BDEs through biotic and abiotic degradation, and all age groups are exposed not only to BDE-209 and -99 but also to a cocktail of BDE congeners with evidence of neurodevelopmental toxicity. The possible risks from combined exposures to these substances have not been evaluated.

Objectives: We performed a congener-specific mixture risk assessment (MRA) of human exposure to combinations of BDE-209 and other BDEs based on estimated exposures via diet and dust intake and on measured levels in biologic samples.

Methods: We employed the Hazard Index (HI) method by using BDE congener-specific reference doses for neurodevelopmental toxicity.

Results: Our HI analysis suggests that combined exposures to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) may exceed acceptable levels in breastfeeding infants (0-3 mo old) and in small children (1-3 y old), even for moderate (vs. high) exposure scenarios. Our estimates also suggest that acceptable levels of combined PBDEs may be exceeded in adults whose diets are high in fish. Small children had the highest combined exposures, with some estimated body burdens that were similar to body burdens associated with developmental neurotoxicity in rodents.

Conclusions: Our estimates corroborate reports from several recent epidemiological studies of associations between PBDE exposures and neurobehavioral outcomes, and they support the inclusion of BDE-209 in the persistent organic pollutant (POP) convention as well as the need for strategies to reduce exposures to PBDE mixtures, including maximum residue limits for PBDEs in food and measures for limiting the release of PBDEs from consumer waste. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP826.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Body Burden
  • Child, Preschool
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environmental Pollutants / metabolism*
  • Flame Retardants / metabolism
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Polybrominated Biphenyls / metabolism*
  • Risk Assessment*


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Flame Retardants
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers
  • Polybrominated Biphenyls