Emerging and legacy flame retardants in UK human milk and food suggest slow response to restrictions on use of PBDEs and HBCDD

Fang Tao, Mohamed Abou-Elwafa Abdallah*, Danielle C. Ashworth, Philippa Douglas, Mireille B. Toledano, Stuart Harrad

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


The legacy flame retardants (LFRs) polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and hexabromocyclododecane (HBCDD), together with six emerging flame retardants (EFRs) were measured in United Kingdom (UK) human milk collected in 2010 (n = 25) and 2014–15 (n = 10). These data are the first report of the presence of EFRs in UK human milk. The most abundant EFR was β-tetrabromoethylcyclohexane (DBE-DBCH) (average = 2.5 ng/g lw; geometric mean = 1.5 ng/g lw), which is comparable to the concentrations of the most abundant LFRs i.e. BDE 47 and α-HBCDD at 2.8 and 2.1 ng/g lw, respectively (geometric mean = 2.1 and 1.7). The estimated median dietary intake of ΣEFRs by UK nursing infants was 18 ng/kg bw/day. EFRs were also measured in UK foodstuffs with β-DBE-DBCH again the predominant compound detected, accounting – on average – for 64.5 ± 23.4% of ΣEFRs. Average estimated dietary intakes of ∑ EFRs in the UK were 89 and 26 ng/day (1.3 and 2.6 ng/body weight/day) for adults and toddlers, respectively. Concentrations of Σtri-hexa BDEs in our UK food samples exceeded those reported in UK samples from the same food categories collected in 2003–04 and 2006. Despite this and our recent report elsewhere of significant temporal declines in concentrations of BDE 209 in UK indoor dust (p < 0.05) and HBCDDs in UK indoor dust and air (p < 0.001), no significant temporal differences (p > 0.05) were observed between concentrations of Σtri-hexa BDEs, BDE 209 and HBCDDs in human milk sampled in 2010 and those obtained in 2014–15. UK adult body burdens for EFRs were predicted via inhalation, diet and dust ingestion using a simple pharmacokinetic model. The predicted EFR body burdens compared well with observed concentrations in human milk.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-104
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironment International
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier Ltd


  • Brominated flame retardants
  • Diet
  • Emerging flame retardants
  • Human exposure
  • Human milk
  • Nursing infant


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