Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers



Petreas, M, J She, FR Brown, J Winkler, G Windham, E Rogers, G Zhao, R Bhatia and MJ Charles. 2003. High body burdens of 2,2’,4,4’ - tetrabromo diphenyl ether (BDE-47) in California Women. Environmental Health Perspectives doi:10.1289/ehp.6220.

Press coverage

Petreas et al. confirm indications from preliminary sampling in California that over the past 3 decades contamination by brominated flame retardants in California women has risen dramatically. Stored samples from the 1960s had no polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) contamination. Levels measured from samples taken in the 1990s, in contrast, reveal levels 3 to 10 times higher than measurements from Europe obtained during the same period.

In Sweden, concerns about the neurodevelopmental impacts of these compounds coupled with their strong persistence and bioaccumulative nature have instigated a governmental ban on their use. No such measures are currently in place in the US. The findings by Petreas et al., as well as those from a similar study in Indiana, suggest that measures to reduce PBDE environmental releases should commence immediately. Calculations suggest that without such interventions, PBDEs will surpass concentration levels of PCBs in some environments.

What did they do? Petreas et al. measured BDE-47 in tissues obtained during three separate epidemiological studies in the San Francisco Bay area of California. One set (32 women) was selected randomly from breast fat samples taken in a case-control study of breast cancer. A second set (50 women) was obtained from Laotian immigrant women participating in a study of organochlorine exposure and menstrual cycle function. A third (420 women) was from serum archived by the National Institute of Health in the late 1960s.

Because the samples were obtained initially for other purposes, the volume of each sample available for analysis was very small, limiting their analysis to only BDE-47 out of the many possible PBDEs. Further, even for BDE-47, the sensitivity of the analysis was constrained. In adipose tissue, they could detect reliably down to 0.5 ng/g (parts per billion) but in serum only to 10 ng/g.

What did they find? BDE-47 was not detectable in any of the late 1960s samples. In contrast, it was found in all of the fat tissue samples and 24 of the 50 serum samples taken during the late 1990s.

The following range presents median and range of PBDEs in the different samples:

Date and source of samples



serum, 1959-1967, NIH study



breast fat, 1996-1998

5.2 - 196

serum, Laotian immigrants, 1997-1999

<10 - 511

Petreas et al. found a significant negative correlation (p = 0.019) between age and BDE-47 levels in the sample of mostly-US born women: older women had less contamination. No correlation was noted in the sample of Laotian women.

What does it mean? Petreas et al. conclude there has been a significant increase in BDE-47 body burden in the US over the last 2 decades. This result is consistent with study of Indiana women and their neonates published simultanteously with this report. Moreover, the body burdens reported in the US are 3 to 10 times higher than those noted in Europe. Even at these lower levels, Sweden has now moved to ban polybrominated flame retardants because of their concerns about developmental toxicity combined with the persistent and bioaccumulative nature of these compounds.

The authors conclude that : "BDE-47 concentrations were high, pointing to the need for follow up studies designed to investigate PBDE exposures. Increasing body burdens, particularly in young women of reproductive age, pose a potential public health threat tofuture generations. PBDE sources need to be recognized, evaluated and controlled to minimize exposures. At the same time, the systematic monitoring of body burdens of known and emerging POPs should become a high priority for our public health system."





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