Emerging Contaminants

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Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs)

Since 2000, considerable effort has been spent on understanding the analysis, occurrence, transport, fate, and toxicity of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). Concern regarding this group of emerging contaminants was triggered by studies indicating significant and accelerating bioaccumulation of PBDEs on a global scale.

PBDEs share some structural similarities to PCBs. Like PCBs there are 209 possible congeners in 10 homologue groups. PBDE congeners are named based on the position of Bromine atoms on the diphenyl structure. Homologues groups (mono through deca) refer to the number of bromine atoms (represented by ‘x’ and ‘y’ in the figure) replacing hydrogen on the diphenyl structure.

AXYS has been measuring PBDEs since 1995. High Resolution mass spectroscopy is used to measure the concentrations of PBDEs at concentrations of concern. Required measurements are usually in the pg/L range for water, and the pg/g range for soils, sediments, biosolids, tissue, and serum. AXYS expertise in this area led to the development of EPA Method 1614Draft, the only published reference method for PBDE measurement in these matrices at these levels. In addition to this expertise, AXYS has tremendous experience in the measurement of PBDEs and other brominated compounds. We are accredited for PBDEs by CALA.

PBDE use is primarily as a flame retardant in a wide variety of finished products, providing protection from fire by slowing the rate of combustion. In this process, bromine atoms are released from the PBDE molecule to displace oxygen, decreasing the rate of burning. Commercial use of PBDEs is divided into 3 types; Penta, Octa, and Deca-BDEs. Total consumption of these products exceeded 50 million kilograms per year in 2002. 

Penta-BDE was commonly used in upholstered furniture padding and rigid insulation. Octa-BDE was extensively used in high impact plastics such as electronics and appliances. Deca-BDE was commonly used in textiles and electrical insulations.

Recent bans have been imposed or are planned for all or some types of PBDE flame retardants in some jurisdictions which may change the consumption pattern of these products. As PBDE congeners may undergo debromination through a number of mechanisms including combustion, photo-degradation, and metabolism, elimination of one type of PBDE product may not eliminate its levels in the environment.

Toxicity research has shown that PBDEs present a wide variety of potential health concerns to non-humans at levels that may or may not occur in the environment. These include thyroid disruption and neurobehavioral effects in mammals as well as interference in brain development. Bioaccumulation and maternal transfer of PBDEs in humans and other mammals are well documented. There have been dramatic increases of measured levels of PBDEs in humans, fish, and mammals, doubling every 2-5 years during 1980 to 2002 in some instances. Recent trends are unclear. More comprehensive toxicity data is required to set “regulatory” environmental levels.

AXYS specializes in measurement of picogram or lower concentrations from standard sample sizes. Our specialized sampling and analytical procedures may allow for much lower detection limits and reduced sample sizes in human and sediment matrices. We deliver legally defensible data under ISO 17025 certified systems applying methods accredited by NELAP and CALA. Electronic Data Deliverables (EDD), customized for download to our clients relational databases, are available in addition to standard format report and full data packages.

Please contact one of our Project Managers at 1 888 373 0881 or +1 (250) 655-5800 to discuss how AXYS can support your analytical advantage.

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