Polybrominated diphenyl ethers. That's a mouthful. PBDEs, as they are known, are chemicals that were used as flame-retardants in a wide variety of consumer products manufactured through 2005. Although no longer used in manufacturing, PBDEs were added to polyurethane foam and various plastics for years, so the chemicals are still found in furniture stuffing, mattresses, foam products (included those marketed for infants and young children) carpet backings, non-clothing textiles, electrical insulation, computers and televisions.
These chemicals are persistent in the environment and have been detected in indoor air, outdoor air, household dust, and food. PBDEs are also present in human breast milk, blood, and fat tissue. One source of household exposure to PBDEs may be from tiny pieces of crumbling old furniture and mattresses.
PBDEs have been shown to exhibit estrogenic properties, mimicking the effects of womens natural hormones. In addition, PBDEs may also break down into more potent estrogen-mimicking metabolites. Substantial scientific evidence indicates that exposures over time to environmental estrogens can increase risk for breast cancer.
For more information about lowering exposures to PBDEs by caring for or removing older products manufactured with these chemicals, consult this Environmental Working Group guide.