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Predictors of serum concentrations of polybrominated flame retardants among healthy pregnant women in an urban environment: a cross-sectional study

Megan K Horton127*, Sabine Bousleiman3, Richard Jones4, Andreas Sjodin4, Xinhua Liu5, Robin Whyatt6, Ronald Wapner3 and Pam Factor-Litvak1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA

2 Sergievsky Center, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA

3 Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY, USA

4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA, USA

5 Department of Biostatistics, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA

6 Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA

7 722 W. 168th St, Room 735, New York, NY, 10033, USA

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Environmental Health 2013, 12:23  doi:10.1186/1476-069X-12-23

Published: 8 March 2013



Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are a class of brominated flame retardants commonly used in a wide range of products. Prenatal exposure to PBDEs has been associated with adverse neurodevelopment. Our objective was to characterize predictors of exposure to PBDEs among a multi-ethnic, low-income cohort of pregnant women enrolled from highly urban communities in New York City between years 2009–2010.


During the first half of pregnancy we collected 316 maternal serum samples and administered an extensive questionnaire including items on demographics, diet and lifestyle. We measured 12 PBDE congeners in blood samples. Using bivariate and multivariate approaches, we regressed the most commonly detected PBDE congeners (PBDE-47, -99, -100 and -153) against potential demographic, dietary and lifestyle predictor variables.


At least one PBDE congener was detected in each serum sample. Our analyses demonstrate unique predictor patterns for PBDE-47, -99, -100 and -153 based on demographic, lifestyle and dietary characteristics of women. Higher education and increased use of household electronics were associated with higher levels of all 4 congeners. Six characteristics were associated with PBDE-153 serum concentrations, more than for any other congener. These include maternal education, household income, body mass index, solid dairy consumption, processed meat consumption and frequent use of household electronics.


PBDE exposure in this widespread in this cohort, though levels are lower than previous assessments of US pregnant women. Lower levels may be in response to legislation restricting the production, sale and use of these compounds. In our cohort, we did not observe any individual predictor or a consistent pattern of several predictors representing a significant source of PBDE exposure. These data suggest that legislation and policy may be more effective at reducing exposure than personal lifestyle modifications.

PBDEs; Human exposure; Diet; Lifestyle; Pregnancy