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Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are a type of flame retardant. Flame retardants are chemicals that slow the spread of fire. They are used to save lives and reduce the damage that fire causes.

PBDEs are found in many everyday items such as:

  • materials used in buildings and cars
  • carpet underlay
  • furniture foam
  • electronic equipment

PBDEs may be part of the product itself (for example, the foam used in furniture) or sprayed on the finished product (for example on upholstery fabric). PBDEs also get into the air during the manufacturing process.

Right now there is not enough evidence to say for sure that PBDEs increase the risk of cancer in people.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has reviewed the evidence for one type of PBDE (deca-BDE) and wasn’t able to say for sure whether exposure to this specific PBDE causes cancer in humans. Based on studies done in rats and mice, the Environmental Protection Agency has classified deca-BDE as “suggestive of carcinogenic potential.”