This paper presents a brief review of the international scientific literature of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and polybrominated bipherryls (PBBs) in sewage sludge and a survey of these compounds in sewage sludge from 16 Australian wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). The Sigma PBDE mean concentration in the Australian study was 1137 mu g kg(-1) dry weight (d.w.) (s.d. 1116) and ranged between 5 and 4 230 mu g kg(-1) d.w. The urban mean of 1308 mu g kg(-1) (s.d. 1320) and the rural mean of 911 mu g kg(-1) (s.d. 831) are not statistically different and are similar to levels in European sludges. Principal components analysis was performed on the data set and revealed that 76 of the data variation could be explained by two components that corresponded to overall concentration of the pentaBDE and the decaBDE commercial formulations. An analysis of variance was performed comparing PBDEs levels at three WWTPs over the years 2005 and 2006, finding differences between treatment plants (BDE-47) but no significant difference in PBDE levels in the years 2005 and 2006. Low levels of BB-153 were detected in all samples of this survey (n = 16); mean 0.6 mu g kg(-1) d.w. (s.d. 0.5). This compound has rarely been reported in any other study of sewage sludges undertaken outside Australia. This work highlights the need for a risk assessment of PBDEs in sewage sludge when used for land application, taking into account typical levels found in Australian sludges and soils.