What they are: Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are used in products to lower the risk and inhibit the spread of fire.
Where they are: On electronics, furniture, carpets, children's pajamas, and other household items that are required to meet flame-retardant safety standards. As these materials age, they release PBDEs into household dust, which we then breathe in. The CDC estimates that 97 percent of Americans have detectable levels of PBDEs in their body. PBDEs are now banned in several states, so manufacturers will be phasing them out of consumer goods over the next few years.
The risks: PBDEs don't break down as quickly as most other endocrine disruptors, so they persist in the environment and in the body for years. Women with higher levels of PBDEs may be half as likely to conceive as women with lower levels, according to a recent study from University of California, Berkeley. Children who had higher concentrations of PBDEs in their umbilical-cord blood at birth scored lower on mental and physical development tests between ages 1 and 6, according to research from the Columbia University Center for Children's Environmental Health.