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Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are widely used as flame retardants in consumer goods, such as plastics, electronics, textiles, and construction material. PBDEs have been found in human milk, fat, and blood samples. Rodent studies indicate that PBDEs may be detrimental to neurodevelopment, possibly by lowering thyroid hormone concentrations in blood. In the present study, we determined concentrations of PBDEs and thyroid hormones in human fetal and maternal serum. Patients presenting in labor to Indiana University and Wishard Memorial County hospitals in Indianapolis, who were older than 18 years, were recruited to participate. Twelve paired samples of maternal and cord blood were obtained and analyzed using gas chromatographic mass spectrometry; thyroid hormone concentrations were determined by radioimmunoassay. Six congeners of PBDE were measured in maternal and fetal serum samples. The concentrations of total PBDEs found in maternal sera ranged from 15 to 580 ng/g lipid, and the concentrations found in fetal samples ranged from 14 to 460 ng/g lipid. Individual fetal blood concentrations did not differ from the corresponding maternal concentrations, indicating that measurement of maternal PBDE blood levels is useful in predicting fetal exposure; similarly, other reports have shown a high correlation between PBDE in mother's milk and fetal exposure. In accord with reports on other biologic samples, the tetrabrominated PBDE congener BDE-47 accounted for 53-64% of total PBDEs in the serum. The concentrations of PBDEs found in maternal and fetal serum samples were 20-106-fold higher than the levels reported previously in a similar population of Swedish mothers and infants. In this small sample, there was no apparent correlation between serum PBDEs and thyroid hormone concentrations. Our study shows that human fetuses in the United States may be exposed to relatively high levels of PBDEs. Further investigation is required to determine if these levels are specific to central Indiana and to assess the toxic potential of these exposure levels.