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Transport and fate of polybrominated diphenyl ethers in the Baltic and Arctic regions

image of Transport and fate of polybrominated diphenyl ethers in the Baltic and Arctic regions

In the last decades, concern has been raised regarding the use of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) due to its increased environmental occurrence and its possible toxicological impact in humans and wildlife. As a result, two of the commercial PBDE products have recently been banned within the EU, while the use of the third product (DecaBDE) is still approved. A dynamic, fugacity-based, regional multimedia fate and transport model (POPCYCLING-Baltic) has been used to assess the historical behaviour and the potential future fate of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), exemplifying different emission scenarios following the introduction of restricting measures. The past, current and future consumption and emission of PBDEs were estimated, and the environmental fate of individual compounds was modelled. The possible impact on the Arctic region is also discussed. Uncertainties in the estimates and data gaps were identified.

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Introduction

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are organic chemical compounds, which are extensively used as flame retardants in products such as electronic equipment, plastic housings and textiles. The production of flame retarding chemical mixtures started as a result of the replacement of traditional materials such as wood and metal with more flammable alternatives, e.g. plastics and polyurethane foams, in the manufacture of furniture and electronic appliances. This change in manufacture started to grow in the late seventies and the use of flame retardants has increased dramatically from that time until today, when the global demand is estimated to be around 205 000 tonnes (1999 figures, BSEF, 2000). The benefits of using flame retardants are that they reduce the propensity for materials to catch fire and mitigate the combustion process, thus providing people with longer escape time. The UK Department of Trade and Industry (2000) estimated that the introduction of fire protected furniture had resulted in 710 saved lives between the years 1988 to 1997.

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