Global PBDE contamination in cetaceans. A critical review

Environ Pollut. 2022 Sep 1;308:119670. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2022.119670. Epub 2022 Jun 22.


This review summarizes the most relevant information on PBDEs' occurrence and their impacts in cetaceans at global scale, with special attention on the species with the highest reported levels and therefore the most potentially impacted by the current and continuous release of these substances. This review also emphasizes the anthropogenic and environmental factors that could increase concentrations and associated risks for these species in the next future. High PBDE concentrations above the toxicity threshold and stationary trends have been related to continuous import of PBDE-containing products in cetaceans of Brazil and Australia, where PBDEs have never been produced. Non-decreasing levels documented in cetaceans from the Northwest Pacific Ocean might be linked to the increased e-waste import and ongoing production and use of deca-BDE that is still allowed in China. Moreover, high levels of PBDEs in some endangered species such as beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) in St. Lawrence Estuary and Southern Resident killer whales (Orcinus Orca) are influenced by the discharge of contaminated waters deriving from wastewater treatment plants. Climate change related processes such as enhanced long-range transport, re-emissions from secondary sources and shifts in migration habits could lead to greater exposure and accumulation of PBDEs in cetaceans, above all in those species living in the Arctic. In addition, increased rainfall could carry greater amount of contaminants to the marine environment, thereby, enhancing the exposure and accumulation especially for coastal species. Synergic effects of all these factors and ongoing emissions of PBDEs, expected to continue at least until 2050, could increase the degree of exposure and menace for cetacean populations. In this regard, it is necessary to improve current regulations on PBDEs and broader the knowledge about their toxicological effects, in order to assess health risks and support regulatory protection for cetacean species.

Keywords: Cetaceans; Climate change; Endocrine disruptors; PBDEs; POPs; Time trends.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Australia
  • Cetacea
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers* / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical* / analysis


  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • pentabromodiphenyl ether