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Scientific Opinion on Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBBs) in Food

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Wiley Online Library

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EFSA was asked by the European Commission to deliver a scientific opinion on polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) in food. PBBs are additive flame retardants which were applied in synthetic fibres and polymers. PBBs are present in the environment at low concentrations and likewise in biota and in food and feed. Data from the analysis of 16 PBB congeners in 794 food samples were provided to EFSA by 6 Member States, covering the period from 2003 to 2009. Toxicity studies were carried out with technical PBB mixtures of which the exact congener composition is not known. Main targets were the liver, thyroid hormone homeostasis and the reproductive, nervous and immune systems. PBBs are not directly genotoxic. The Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM Panel) selected the hepatic carcinogenic effects as the critical effect, with a no-observed-effect level (NOEL) of 0.15 mg/kg body weight (b.w.). Since this NOEL was obtained in a study with a technical PBB mixture, the congener profile of which differs from that currently found in food, the CONTAM Panel concluded that it was inappropriate to use this NOEL to derive a health based guidance value. The intake of PBBs by high and frequent consumers of fatty fish, the subgroup with the highest dietary exposure, was approximately 6 orders of magnitude less than this NOEL. Exposure for high consuming breast-fed infants is 5 orders of magnitude less than this NOEL. Therefore the CONTAM Panel concluded that the risk to the European population from exposure to PBBs through the diet is of no concern. Since PBBs are no longer produced or used in Europe and taking into account low and declining environmental concentrations, the CONTAM Panel concluded that PBBs are a low priority for further research or monitoring efforts.