Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are used as flame retardants in plastics (concentration, 5--30%) and in textile coatings. Commercial products consist predominantly of penta-, octa-, and decabromodiphenyl ether mixtures, and global PBDE production is about 40,000 tons per year. PBDEs are bioaccumulated and biomagnified in the environment, and comparatively high levels are often found in aquatic biotopes from different parts of the world. During the mid-1970--1980s there was a substantial increase in the PBDE levels with time in both sediments and aquatic biota, whereas the latest Swedish data (pike and guillemot egg) may indicate that levels are at steady state or are decreasing. However, exponentially increasing PBDE levels have been observed in mother's milk during 1972--1997. Based on levels in food from 1999, the dietary intake of PBDE in Sweden has been estimated to be 0.05 microg per day. Characteristic end points of animal toxicity are hepatotoxicity, embryotoxicity, and thyroid effects as well as maternal toxicity during gestation. Recently, behavioral effects have been observed in mice on administration of PBDEs during a critical period after birth. Based on the critical effects reported in available studies, we consider the lowest-observed-adverse-effect level (LOAEL) value of the PBDE group to be 1 mg/kg/day (primarily based on effects of pentaBDEs). In conclusion, with the scientific knowledge of today and based on Nordic intake data, the possible consumer health risk from PBDEs appears limited, as a factor of over 10(6) separates the estimated present mean dietary intake from the suggested LOAEL value. However, the presence of many and important data gaps, including those in carcinogenicity, reproduction, and developmental toxicity, as well as additional routes of exposure, make this conclusion only preliminary. Moreover, the time trend of PBDEs in human breast milk is alarming for the future.