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The BCERF program on the Cancer Risks of Environmental Chemicals in the Home and Workplace closed on March 31, 2010. No further updates will be made to this web site. Please go Cornell University’s eCommons web site to access BCERF’s archived research and educational materials (


What are PBDEs?

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are chemicals used as flame retardants. (For a one-page description of PDBEs and related issues, read the PBDE BCERF Brief). Some PBDEs have been identified as endocrine disruptors. They have been widely detected in people, wildlife, and the environment.

How do PBDEs Affect Breast Cancer Risk?

Most breast tumors depend on estrogen to grow. There is concern that exposure to environmental estrogens like PBDEs could affect breast cancer risk by giving estrogen-dependent tumors a growth advantage.

The chemical structure of PBDEs is similar to the chemical structure of environmental contaminants such as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). Chemicals with similar structures can have similar effects on the body.

PCB exposure is associated with a number of adverse health effects. There is concern that PBDE exposure may result in similar health effects. Some PBDEs are estrogen disruptors. Few studies have examined whether people exposed to PBDEs are at higher risk for breast cancer, but researchers have started to investigate the question.

How are People Exposed to PBDEs?

PBDEs enter the environment through:

Once in the environment, PBDEs enter the food chain, and are found in the fat of livestock and fish. People are exposed through eating contaminated food (meat, fish, and dairy products) or breathing indoor dust. Infants can be exposed to PBDEs from contaminated breast milk.

Read more about how people are exposed to PBDEs.

Reducing Exposure

Research is needed on ways to minimize exposure to PBDEs from indoor dust.

Reduce PBDE intake from food by:

Find out how some industries are taking steps to eliminate, reduce, or use alternatives.

dot BCERF Resources on PBDEs

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