Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (Flame Retardants) in Babies, Sediment Cores, and Fishes

EPA Grant Number: R830397
Title: Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (Flame Retardants) in Babies, Sediment Cores, and Fishes
Investigators: Hites, Ronald A. , Bigsby, Robert M.
Current Investigators: Hites, Ronald A.
Institution: Indiana University - Bloomington , Indiana University - Purdue University - Indianapolis
Current Institution: Indiana University
EPA Project Officer: Carleton, James N
Project Period: January 1, 2003 through December 31, 2004
Project Amount: $228,760
RFA: Futures Research in Natural Sciences (2001) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Land and Waste Management , Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Hazardous Waste/Remediation


This study will measure the concentration of PBDEs in infants and this data will compared with long term trends identified through sediment core and fish analyses in the great lakes.


We will also use collections of fish (primarily lake trout) that have been collected from the Great Lakes and archived by the US Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division. These fish date back to 1980 and have been collected biennially ever since. By analyzing fish from this historical collection, we will obtain retrospective information on the input of PBDEs into this ecosystem.

This combination of sediment core and retrospective fish analyses will provide information on the environmental trends of PBDE over the last ~40 years. If the trends obtained from the sediment cores and the fish are the same, then this will be an internal check, which will tend to validate the accuracy of both approaches.


Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are flame-retardants that are added to plastics, particularly those used in furniture and in consumer electronics. Their use is unregulated and their concentrations in the environment are increasing. PBDEs have been found in human blood, fat, milk, and placenta. Concentrations of PBDEs are increasing exponentially (with a doubling time of 5 years) in human milk in Sweden. It seems likely that children in the United States are receiving the same level of exposure before birth. The proposed studies have two main aims. First, we will measure the concentration of PBDEs in umbilical cord blood obtained from 50 newborn infants from the United States. This will tell us if the fetus is exposed to these compounds, the variability in exposure among individuals, and if the degree of exposure is increasing with time. Data will be collected on birth weight and gestational age as indicators of the baby's overall health. In addition, information will be collected on the mother's employment history (sources of exposure), physical parameters (body mass index), smoking habits, and health history. These data will be regressed against the PBDE concentrations in their infants' umbilical cord blood. Second, in order to determine trends of these compounds in the United States' environment as a function of time, we propose to study lake sediment cores and fishes from around the Great Lakes to assess the long term trends of these compounds in the environment. Sediment cores are widely used to determine the historical input of pollutants into the environment, and our laboratory has had considerable experience with this approach. Thus, we plan to obtain cores from three of the Great Lakes and from Siskiwit Lake on Isle Royal. We will segment and date the cores such that we can determine historical trends of PBDE inputs to the environment.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 8 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 8 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

Umbilical cord blood, Great Lakes, mass spectrometry, lake trout., RFA, Scientific Discipline, Health, PHYSICAL ASPECTS, INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION, Geographic Area, Water, Waste, Health Risk Assessment, Environmental Chemistry, Contaminated Sediments, Risk Assessments, Physical Processes, Biochemistry, Children's Health, Environmental Policy, Ecological Risk Assessment, Ecology and Ecosystems, Great Lakes, fish borne toxicant, neonates, chemical exposure, blood samples, infants, PBDE, flame retardants, exposure, contaminated sediment, children, environmental sampling, human exposure, exposure pathways, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, fish-borne toxicants, human health risk

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2003 Progress Report
  • Final Report