Abstract The atmosphere is an important medium which could directly reflect the changes of pollutant sources. Worldwide, the commercial products of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) have been officially restricted and subsequently prohibited. For the purpose of evaluating their concentration after prohibition, passive air samplers (PASs) were therefore deployed again across the East Asia during two periods in 2008 after the initial deployment 4 years ago. When compared with the data in 2004, the atmospheric concentrations of PBDEs have declined significantly. Spatially, the PBDE level in China was still the highest, with a mean value of 15.4 pg m− 3, and in Japan was the lowest (2.47 ± 1.12 pg m− 3) in the East Asia. Moreover, the relatively high concentrations were observed at sites where there are electronic or e-waste recycling industries, and this is particularly true in China, suggesting that illegally imported e-waste is still a typical source of PBDEs in this region.