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Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)

What are they?

  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, also known as PBDEs, are a class of chemical substances (which includes tetra-, penta-, hexa-, hepta-, octa-, nona- and decaBDE forms) that are generally found in three commercial mixtures: PentaBDE, OctaBDE and DecaBDE.

How are they used?

  • PBDEs are used as flame retardants to slow the ignition and spread of fire. In general, plastics are the primary end use for flame retardants, due to their inherent flammability.
  • PBDEs can be found in many items, including products used by consumers (such as, carpet underlay, furniture foam, and electrical and electronic equipment) and building and automobile materials. Smaller markets include textiles, adhesives and sealants, rubber products and coatings.
  • The use of the PentaBDE and OctaBDE commercial mixtures has been phased-out globally since 2006.

Why did the Government of Canada assess them?

  • PBDEs were identified for assessment under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999), on the basis of their potential persistence and/or bioaccumulation in the environment, and inherent toxicity to organisms.

How are Canadians exposed to them?

  • Given the use patterns, exposure of the general population of Canada to PBDEs would likely result from contact with, and/or the use of certain products used by consumers that contain PBDEs.
  • Exposures to the general population in Canada to PBDEs may also occur through environmental media (for example, air, and water), household dust, food, and human breast milk (PBDEs have been detected in humans).
  • This assessment took into consideration results of biomonitoring studies. Measuring chemicals in blood, urine or breast milk is called biomonitoring and is done through health studies or surveys, such as the Canadian Health Measures Survey. Finding the chemical in the body does not necessarily mean that it is causing harm. Harmful effects will depend on the levels and the properties of the chemicals. The information on measured levels in humans is important to estimating exposure to Canadians.

How are they released into the environment?

  • PBDEs can be released to the environment throughout their lifecycle. This includes from the handling and manufacturing of the chemicals to use of the products which contain them.

What are the results of the assessment?

What is the Government of Canada doing?

  • Following the publication of the screening assessments in 2006, the Government of Canada published a Risk Management Strategy for addressing releases of PBDEs in Canada.
  • The Government of Canada finalized the Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers Regulations, which came into force on June 19, 2008. These Regulations prohibit the manufacture of all PBDEs in Canada, and restrict the import, use, sale and offer for sale of PBDEs found in commercial mixtures of greatest concern (Penta- and OctaBDE).
  • On October 5, 2016, PBDEs were added to the Prohibition of Certain Toxic Substances Regulations, 2012 which expand the scope of the existing prohibitions for PBDEs to cover all PBDEs (including decaBDE) unless present in a manufactured article. As a result, the Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers Regulations will be repealed when the regulations come into force in December 2016.
  • Additional actions have been or are being developed to complement these Regulations include:

What can Canadians do?

  • The health risks associated with a chemical depend on the hazard (its potential to cause health effects) and the amount of chemical to which a person is exposed. PBDEs are not presently a concern for the health of the general population in Canada at current levels of exposure.
  • Canadians who handle PBDEs in the workplace should consult with their employer and occupational health and safety (OHS) representative about safe handling practices, applicable laws and requirements under OHS legislation and the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS).