Brominated flame retardants (BFRs) are compounds that are often added to materials to reduce their flammability. Of the commercialized chemical flame retardants, they are the most widely used. They are very effective in plastics and textile applications, e.g. electronics and furniture, and have been used in a wide variety of consumer products for several decades.
However, during the past ~20 years, the concentrations of BFRs in the environment have increased dramatically, with >80% of human exposure due to contaminated dust in our homes and work places and the remainder through food. Human body burdens of BFRs in North Americans are now among the highest in the world, especially in newborns and young infants.
The limited clinical data that are available suggest that the BFRs act as endocrine-disrupting substances and that at least one outcome is interference with development and function of the reproductive system. This is a serious issue: not only is the reproductive health of the individual potentially at risk but also that of future generations. Although there are regulations in Canada that prohibit the use, sale and import of mixtures, polymers and resins containing several of the BFRs, the government is still developing plans for controls on products containing these chemicals. Since, even with strict regulatory action, Canadians will continue to be exposed to BFRs, a re-thinking of current regulatory and policy (including educational) approaches may be required in order to fulfill the ethical and legal obligations that governments and health professionals owe to Canadians of all ages.
To date, there are no studies that have assessed the impact of long term exposures to environmentally relevant BFR mixtures, such as those reported in house dust. The few published human studies also do not provide definitive answers. In addition, the exposure of a developing fetus or infant to BFRs may have very different consequences than the exposure of an adult, so it is crucial that studies be done to examine the windows of susceptibility to BFRs. Thus, there is a clear need for research to address the concerns of Canadians about the use of BFRs and the issues related to their health, and to provide the information critical for policy makers and regulators.
We've assembled a multi-disciplinary team of basic, clinical and social scientists, healthcare professionals and legal scholars from five Canadian universities and Health Canada to address these concerns. To learn more about our research, please see the Projects page.
Our research is a collaborative effort from members of the following institutions: