AbstractThe distribution characteristics and potential sources of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and alternative brominated flame retardants (aBFRs) were investigated in 54 surface sediment samples from four bays (Taozi Bay, Sishili Bay, Dalian Bay, and Jiaozhou Bay) of North China's Yellow Sea. Of the 54 samples studied, 51 were collected from within the four bays and 3 were from rivers emptying into Jiaozhou Bay. Decabromodiphenylethane (DBDPE) was the predominant flame retardant found, and concentration ranged from 0.16 to 39.7 ng g−1 dw and 1.13–49.9 ng g−1 dw in coastal and riverine sediments, respectively; these levels were followed by those of BDE 209, and its concentrations ranged from n.d. to 10.2 ng g−1 dw and 0.05–7.82 ng g−1 dw in coastal and riverine sediments, respectively. The levels of DBDPE exceeded those of decabromodiphenyl ether (BDE 209) in most of the samples in the study region, whereas the ratio of DBDPE/BDE 209 varied among the four bays. This is indicative of different usage patterns of brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and also different hydrodynamic conditions among these bay areas. The spatial distribution and composition profile analysis indicated that BFRs in Jiaozhou Bay and Dalian Bay were mainly from local sources, whereas transport from Laizhou Bay by coastal currents was the major source of BFRs in Taozi Bay and Sishili Bay. Both the ∑PBDEs and ∑aBFRs (sum of pentabromotoluene (PBT), 2,3-diphenylpropyl-2,4,6-tribromophenyl ether (DPTE), pentabromoethylbenzene (PBEB), and hexabromobenzene (HBB)) were at low concentrations in all the sediments. This is probably attributable to a combination of factors such as low regional usage of these products, atmospheric deposition patterns, coastal currents transportation patterns, and degradation processes for higher BDE congeners. This paper is the first study that has investigated the levels of DBDPE in the coastal sediments of China's Yellow Sea.