PBDE Flame Retardants Are Still Around

cars furniture interior design technology textiles Mar 13, 2018

by Angela Cummings and Sophia Ruan Gushée


PBDE flame retardants were phased out in 2004 and 2010, yet these chemicals are still around.

Scientific studies have found PBDEs in humans and the environment—over 8 years later.

They could still be in your home.

What are PBDEs?

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are chemical flame retardants.  They come in a variety of mixtures such as pentabromodiphenyl ether (c-pentaBDE), octabromodiphenyl ether (c-octaBDE), and decabromodiphenyl ether (c-decaBDE). (1)

In 2004, the United States phased out the manufacturing and import of two PBDEs: pentabromodiphenyl ether (c-pentaBDE) and octabromodiphenyl ether (c-octaBDE). However, chemical varieties of these two PBDEs (and others) are still showing up in humans and the environment. (2)

The third type of PBDE—decabromodiphenyl ether (c-decaBDE)—was encouraged by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to be voluntarily phased out of products by December 31, 2013. (3)

How am I exposed?

PBDEs are not “bound” to materials—like plastic, foam, and fabric or textiles. Therefore, they are more likely to leach from these materials…and the products made from these materials. (4)

You can be exposed to PBDEs through textiles, plastic products, wire insulation, automobiles, (5) furniture, bedding, carpet, drapes, and other textiles. (6)

Reasons for Concern

  • PBDEs have a negative impact on fertility, development and fetal malformations. (7)
  • Studies have linked PBDEs to cancer (8)
  • PBDEs are affecting the brain and nervous system (9)

How can I avoid PBDEs?

Since the phase-out of some types of PBDE was voluntary, and there is growing evidence that replacement flame retardants may have similar health effects, it may be most effective to avoid PBDEs by avoiding flame retardants (as best you can), altogether.

  • Textiles without flame retardants. Consider choosing clothes, furniture fabric, drapes, and bedding that do not have flame retardants added.  
  • Less-chemical electronics. All electronics have flame retardants; however, you can choose electronics with less overall chemicals by following the 2017 Green Peace Guide to Greener Electronics.
  • Avoid products made of plastic. Opt for products made from natural materials—like glass, ceramic or stone—instead of plastics.
  • Choose 100% natural latex without flame retardant. Natural latex is not highly flammable and therefore does not require that chemical flame retardants are added to meet code requirements. (10)
  • Use wool. Wool is a natural flame retardant that doesn’t require added flame retardant chemicals. Wool mattresses, clothing, and curtains are a few examples of items that could meet fire-resistant requirements without PBDEs or other flame retardant chemicals.

In Summary

Even though various types PBDEs were phased out and discouraged in 2004 and 2010-2013, these chemicals are still found in humans and the environment today.

PBDEs have been linked to medical conditions such as cancer, liver damage, fertility and development, and neurological challenges. Since some varieties of PBDEs are still allowed (phase out was voluntary), and replacement flame retardants may have similar effects on health, avoid flame retardants altogether.

Instead, consider choosing products made from natural materials—like 100% natural latex, wool, glass, ceramic, or stone—that do not require flame retardant chemicals to be added. Use the 2017 Green Peace Guide to Greener Electronics to choose electronics such as phones and computers that contain fewer chemicals overall.


(1)(2)(4)(5) EPA

(3)  EPA – Current PBDE

(6)(7)(8)(9)(10) A to Z of D-Toxing, Works Cited Part 2

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Ruan Living simplifies a nontoxic lifestyle through its Practical Nontoxic Living podcast, free detox workshops, online D-Tox Academy, and transformative 40-Day Home Detox. It aims to help you avoid toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from what you buy, own, and do— without compromising your joy and convenience. Ruan was founded by Sophia Ruan Gushée, author of the bestselling critically acclaimed book A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Your Toxic Exposures and several detox workbooks. A graduate of Brown University and Columbia Business School, Sophia has served on the Brown University School of Public Health Advisory Council and Well+Good Council. A popular nontoxic living speaker, consultant, and teacher, Sophia lives in New York City with her husband and three daughters. Her passion for empowering others to enjoy nontoxic living began with the birth of her first daughter in 2007. Everything she creates is a love letter to her children and for the healthiest, brightest future possible. You can learn more here: Sophia’s Impact.


This article is for informational purposes only. This information is provided “as is” without warranty.

It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. We do not offer medical advice, course of treatment, diagnosis, or any other opinion on your conditions or treatment options. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Ruan Living.

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