Science, Tech, Math › Science Health Effects of PBDE Absorption Share Flipboard Email Print Polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs are organic bromine compounds that are used as a flame retardant. They are structurally similar to PCBs. Leyo, Wikipedia Commons Science Chemistry Medical Chemistry Basics Chemical Laws Molecules Periodic Table Projects & Experiments Scientific Method Biochemistry Physical Chemistry Chemistry In Everyday Life Famous Chemists Activities for Kids Abbreviations & Acronyms Biology Physics Geology Astronomy Weather & Climate By Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D. Chemistry Expert Ph.D., Biomedical Sciences, University of Tennessee at Knoxville B.A., Physics and Mathematics, Hastings College Dr. Helmenstine holds a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences and is a science writer, educator, and consultant. She has taught science courses at the high school, college, and graduate levels. our editorial process Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D. Updated August 03, 2018 Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) is a common flame retardant used to reduce the risk of fire in a wide variety of products, such as children's pajamas and your computer. PBDEs are excellent flame retardants, but the chemicals have been accumulating in the environment and in human bodies. Relatively recent reports have indicated that exposure to low concentrations of these chemicals may result in irreparable damage to the nervous and reproductive systems. The European Union will ban two of the three most common PBDE formulations starting in 2004. California is the only U.S. state to take action, passing a law to ban certain PBDEs, but not until 2008. Several Japanese electronics companies will be phasing PBDEs from their products. Other countries and individual manufacturers are taking steps to eliminate their use of PBDEs. PBDE concentrations are 10-20 times higher in North Americans than in Europeans. European concentrations are about twice those of Japanese levels. Calculations performed by Ronald Hites of Indiana University show that body concentrations have been "exponentially increasing, with a doubling time of 4 to 5 years." PBDE-containing products are being phased out, but the chemicals remain a health concern because they are so persistent in the body and in the environment.