Food contaminated with polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) pose a health risk to all age groups, according to the draft conclusion of a recent scientific opinion by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). A public consultation on the opinion is available.

PBDEs are a class of brominated flame retardants (BFRs). They are human-made chemicals used in a wide variety of products such as plastics, textiles, and electrical and electronic equipment to make them less flammable. PBDEs can leach into the air, water, soil, food, and feed.

PBDEs mainly contaminate food of animal origin, such as fish, meat, and milk. From research in experimental animals that was assessed in the draft opinion, experts concluded that PBDEs may have an adverse effect on the reproductive and nervous systems.

EFSA’s Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) recommended that monitoring of the presence of PBDEs in food should continue. Additionally, experts called for more data on the occurrence of PBDEs in infant formula and on how these substances transfer from the mother to the infant during pregnancy and lactation.

EFSA performed a previous assessment of PBDEs in 2011, when it assessed the risk for individual PBDEs and identified health concerns for young people only. The latest draft opinion considers scientific evidence that has become available since 2011 and assesses the risks associated with the combined exposure to some of the most frequently detected PBDEs.

The present scientific opinion is the second in a series of six opinions on the risks posed by BFRs. The first was published in 2021, updating the risk assessment of hexabromocyclododecanes (HBCDDs) in food.

In the EU, certain BFRs are banned or restricted for use, however, because of their persistence in the environment, there are still concerns about the risks the chemicals may pose to public health. Additionally, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has recently released its Regulatory Strategy for Flame Retardants, identifying aromatic brominated flame retardants as candidates for EU-wide restriction. This would minimize the exposure of humans to this class of compounds.

A public consultation on the scientific opinion will run for six weeks. Interested stakeholders are invited to send comments by July 20, 2023.