Brominated flame retardants

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), a common class of brominated flame retardants (BFRs), are a ubiquitous part of our built environment. For many years, these flame retardants have improved public safety by reducing the flammability of everyday items including computers, furnishings and mattresses.

Recently, PBDEs have attracted increased international attention because of their potential to impact upon the environment and human health. Some PBDE compounds have been nominated for possible inclusion under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, to which Australia is a Party. Work under the Stockholm Convention has demonstrated the capacity of some PBDEs to persist and accumulate in the environment and to be carried long distances.

Much is unknown about the impact of PBDEs on living organisms, however recent studies show that some PBDEs can inhibit growth in colonies of plankton and algae and depress the reproduction of zooplankton. Laboratory mice and rats have also shown liver function disturbances and damage to developing nervous systems as a result of exposure to PBDEs.

Australian studies

In 2004, the Australian Government engaged the National Research Centre for Environmental Toxicology to conduct three studies to examine levels of PBDEs in Australia. These studies examined levels in aquatic sediments, indoor environments and human blood.  The aim of these studies was to improve our knowledge about PBDEs so that governments were in a better position to consider appropriate management actions.

The Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts will be working closely with other government agencies, industry and the community to investigate any further action that may be required to address PBDEs in Australia.

Brochures and fact sheets

Further information