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An Assessment of Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) in Sediments and Bivalves of the U.S. Coastal Zone

Report Summary

Cover of PBDE

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podcast iconLearn more about PBDEs in the coastal zone from Dr. Gunnar Lauenstein, Mussel Watch Program manager.

Globally, thousands of new chemicals are engineered each year. Most will find their way into coastal, marine and Great Lakes waters of the United States with unknown consequences to these environments and to the millions of Americans who live along our shores. Many of these chemicals have been labeled as “Chemicals of Emerging Concern” (CEC) by scientists around the world, and include agro-chemicals, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and a wide range of industrial products such as flame retardants, including Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs).

This report was developed by NOAA's National Status & Trends Program (NS&T), and represents the first national assessment of PBDEs in the U.S. coastal zone. Results suggest that they are widely distributed nationally. Several regions, including the northern Mid-Atlantic, central Gulf of Mexico, Southern California, Pacific Northwest and the Great lakes have elevated PBDE concentrations compared with other coastal regions. Furthermore, PBDE concentrations are positively correlated with human population density along the U.S. coastline. The national and regional perspectives provided herein are intended to support research, local monitoring, and to assist resource managers and policy makers tasked with making regulatory decisions about these contaminants.

In recent years, PBDEs have generated international concern due to their global distribution and associated adverse environmental and human health effects. Laboratory studies indicate that PBDEs may impair liver, thyroid, and neurobehavioral development, and the most sensitive populations are likely to be pregnant women, developing fetuses, and infants. While production of PBDE flame retardants began in the 1970s and peaked in 1999, they are still found in many consumer plastics, textiles, electronics, and furniture. PBDE production has been banned throughout Europe and Asia. U.S industry has voluntarily discontinued production of some PBDE mixtures, but still produces one form of PBDE.

If you have any questions about the report or the NOAA NS&T Program, please do not hesitate to call or write:

Gunnar Lauenstein, Chief
Center for Coastal Monitoring & Assessment | COAST Branch
NOAA | National Ocean Service | National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science
1305 East-West Highway
SSMC-4, 9th Floor
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Tel: 301.713.3028, ext-152

Example National Figure Example Summary Graph
PBDE map scatter plot
National distribution of tissue concentration (2004 through 2007). The highest PBDE concentrations were measured at industrial and urban locations. Sediment and tissue PBDE concentrations were correlated with human population within 20 km of a site.
Click on the map below to explore the PBDE data in Google Maps.
If you have Google Earth click HERE.
PBDE data site

Learn More About PBDEs