Flame retardants morph into dioxins | Science News

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Flame retardants morph into dioxins

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1:01pm, May 20, 2003

From Hamburg, Germany, at a meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry–Europe

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) make up a family of common flame retardants for plastics, foams, and fabrics. Nearly ubiquitous in air and water, these pollutants have gained notoriety for accumulating not only in wildlife but also in human blood and breast milk (SN: 10/13/01, p. 238: Burned by Flame Retardants?). Now, German chemists report evidence that sunlight can degrade these chemicals. The bad news: Their breakdown products include brominated analogs of chemicals that belong to the infamous dioxin family.

Wolf-Ulrich Palm of Lüneburg University and his colleagues set out to study dissolved PBDEs. Because these compounds are only slightly soluble in water, the scientists used an organic solvent and irradiated the solution with ultraviolet wavelengths found in sunlight.

In a surprisingly strong effect, about

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