From: Joyce H. Newman, The Green Guide
Published June 9, 2005 12:00 AM

Avoiding Health Risks from PBDEs

After widespread media coverage of the potentially toxic levels of the chemical, PDBE, recently measured in breast milk, in farmed salmon, and other fatty foods, we learned for the first time that American women hold the frightening distinction of having the highest levels of PBDEs in the world. In fact, according to recent estimates, women in the U.S. have as much as 10 times to 100 times the levels of women in Europe.

No one really knows to what degree these levels pose serious health risks, but it doesn’t look good. A growing body of evidence from animal tests suggests PBDEs—short for polybrominated diphenyl ethers-- are linked to neurological, reproductive, and thyroid damage in animals. We know that there are increasing levels of PBDEs accumulating our bodies and in breast milk. So many women rightly worry about breastfeeding and potential hazards to children, in particular.

The Green Guide ( has been covering this story for several years, and its science adviser, Dr. Philip Landrigan, an expert on toxic chemicals, advises that women who are breastfeeding definitely continue to do so as the benefits far outweigh the risks. Experts point out that women generally can reduce their exposure to PBDEs, and to many other potentially toxic chemicals as well, by adopting a basic “healthy heart diet” that is low in fats and high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

To avoid the risks from PBDEs in foods, the major source of PBDE exposure, the editors of The Green Guide say:

-- Eat a diet high in vegetables, fruit and whole grains and avoid high fat dairy foods like cheese, butter and ice cream.

-- Eat leaner cuts of meat, poultry and fish—avoiding farmed Salmon from US and Europe in favor of wild Salmon.

-- Drink skim milk—it’s PBDE-free and free of other toxic chemicals too

Meanwhile, PBDEs continue to be widely used as a flame retardant in a variety of non-food products such as mattresses, foam cushions, furniture, and computers and other household electronic products. Avoiding exposure from these products is more difficult. In the case of furniture, Ikea has stepped up to the plate, eliminating PBDEs from its products.

The European Union already has banned the most toxic forms of PBDEs. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set no national safety standards or other regulations for their manufacture, use or disposal.

In consumer electronics, Sony, along with Apple, Panasonic, and NEC have taken the lead to eliminate or reduce some types of PBDEs in their products. However, some other types of PBDEs continue to be used.

Detailed advice on PBDEs in mattresses, furniture and home electronics and how to minimize exposure, is available from the editors of The Green Guide. Be sure to check out their new article on PBDEs by clicking here (subscription required). The Green Guide also provides a downloadable “Smart Shopper’s PBDE Card” with tips and best products advice.


An award-winning broadcast journalist and new media executive whose credits include a wide range of environmental and "green consumer" websites and programs, Joyce H. Newman is a Trustee of the Green Guide Institute, a nonprofit, independent publisher of consumer health and safety advice, product reviews, and shopping tips. She currently heads Newman Productions, specializing in strategic communications for a variety of national nonprofit organizations.

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