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Skip Navigation LinksPennsylvania Department of Health > My Health > Environmental Health > Environmental Fact Sheets > Bromides Fact Sheet


What are bromides?

Bromides are chemical compounds that contain the element bromine (Br), a nonmetallic element that is a liquid at room temperature. It has a brownish-red color, a bleach-like odor and it dissolves in water. Bromides commonly exist in the form of salts with sodium, potassium, and other positively-charged atoms.

Are there commercial uses for these compounds?

Some Br-containing compounds were historically used as over-the-counter sedatives. Some prescription medicines still contain bromides. Bromides are used outside of the United States to treat certain types of epilepsy.

Are bromides present in the environment?

Br is widely distributed in nature. The average Br content in soils is 5 parts per million (ppm), with land plants containing about 15 ppm.
Bromine/bromides also occurs in the oceans, in salt lakes [HT1] , and in brines or salt deposits. It is commonly found in groundwater in the form of bromide.
Concentrations of Br in fresh water typically range from trace amounts to about 0.5 milligrams per liter (mg/L) or 0.5 ppm.

How are people exposed to bromides?
Bromides are naturally present in some foods. The typical daily dietary intake of bromide in the United States is 2 to 8 milligrams (mg) from grains, nuts and fish. People may also be ingest bromides by drinking private well water. Bromide compounds can be formed during reactions between chlorine and organic matter in drinking water. This forms brominated and mixed chloro-bromo byproducts.  It can also react with ozone to form bromate.
What happens to bromides once it enters the body?
Bromides are absorbed in the gut and travel to body tissues through the blood. From there, it is excreted mainly in the urine or in breast milk. Bromides can cross the placental barrier and accumulate in the fetus. Bromides can penetrate the blood-brain barrier and affect the brain. In humans, it takes about 12 days for half of the bromide in the blood to be eliminated from the body.
How harmful is exposure to bromides?
Signs of acute toxicity include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, though these signs do not necessarily indicate exposure to bromides. Serum bromide levels at which toxic symptoms appear are extremely variable. Symptoms are commonly seen at serum concentrations of bromide between 50 and 100 mg/dL. Serum bromide concentrations of 100 to 200 mg/dL can produce bromism, which manifests as a collection of psychiatric, neurological and dermatological symptoms. Bromides may affect thyroid function in women.
Can exposure to bromides cause cancer?
Bromides are not carcinogenic, but some Br-containing compounds can cause cancer.
Is there a medical test to show whether I’ve been exposed to bromide-containing compounds?
There are tests that measure the amount of bromide in blood or urine, but these tests are only useful if done within one to two days following exposure. These tests are not routinely performed at doctors’ offices, but your doctor can take blood or urine samples and send them to a testing laboratory.  
Are there recommendations to protect public health?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has set an acceptable daily intake (ADI) for inorganic bromides in humans of 0.4 mg/kilogram (mg/kg) of body weight.
What is the treatment for bromide poisoning?
Emergency medical care should be sought in cases of suspected poisoning with Br or Br-containing compounds. Bromide poisoning is treated with supportive medical care in a hospital setting and stopping exposure to bromide.
What can I do to prevent exposure to bromides?
Food and water are the greatest potential sources of human exposure, and people should limit exposure to problematic foods. Normally, the amount of bromides in foods and water is usually too low to cause health concerns. Distillation or reverse osmosis will remove Br-containing compounds from drinking water.
What should I do if I believe I am ill as a result of exposure to bromides?
If you experience symptoms that you think may be related to bromide exposure, you should see your physician.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts about Bromine, searched 6/9/11 at  
Bromide in drinking-water, Background document for development of WHO Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality, World Health Organization (2009)
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A Review of the Scientific Literature As It Pertains to Gulf War Illnesses, Volume 2, Pyridostigmine Bromide, Beatrice Alexandra Golomb, National Defense Research Institute, 1999 Rand
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), Public Health Statement for Bromomethane, September 1992
Content last modified on 2/16/2017