Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are ubiquitous environmental contaminants due to their long half-life and widespread use as flame retardants in several consumer products, including plastics. In addition to other actions, these compounds are characterized as thyroid hormone disruptors. Thyroid hormones affect the function of nearly all tissues via their effects on cellular metabolism and the essential roles they play in differentiation and growth. Interference with thyroid hormone homeostasis by these environmental compounds, therefore, has the potential to impact development and every system in the body. Their presence in human breast milk is particularly troubling due to exposure of nursing children. The last trimester of pregnancy up to 2 years of age corresponds to a time of rapid neurodevelopment and represents a period of vulnerability to environmental insults. Rodent studies indicate that PBDEs may act as developmental neurotoxicants and effects on the reproductive system have been reported as well. Concerns exist regarding possible impacts of exposure, in particular ones which occur during development, on human health. This paper is part of a series of articles regarding contaminants in plastic and provides an overview regarding PBDEs, a class of flame-retardant additives to plastic. PBDEs possess a similar structure to the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) previously used as lubricants in electrical generators and transformers until production was prohibited approximately 25 years ago. Parallels between the two compounds will be briefly made and in particular, as more epidemiological studies on PCBs are available than on PBDEs, a few examples concerning thyroid homeostasis, cognitive function and sexually dimorphic behavior in humans will be mentioned.
Chris E. Talsness Overview of toxicological aspects of polybrominated diphenyl ethers: A flame-retardant additive in several consumer products. Environmental Research 2008 October