New Harvard study: Sick infants in hospital intensive care units exposed to high levels of toxic phthalate

BOSTON, June 8 /PRNewswire/ — A first-of-its-kind study released today by Harvard University scientists found that babies in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs) receiving intensive therapy with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) medical devices were exposed to a toxic phthalate at very high levels — an average of 25 times higher than the general population and up to 50 times higher for the most exposed. As their medical treatments intensified, the sick infants were exposed to progressively higher exposures of di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, or DEHP.

DEHP is a reproductive toxicant that alters development of the male reproductive system in laboratory animal studies. The phthalate is used to soften PVC (vinyl) plastic medical devices such as IV bags and tubing, and it oozes out of the plastic and into patients’ bodies.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned health care providers to protect certain vulnerable patients — including male infants — from DEHP-containing PVC medical devices, but many hospitals are still using these devices despite the availability of cost-effective alternatives.

“There is no reason to dose sick babies with toxic phthalates when safer medical devices are available. We urge hospitals to switch to PVC-free, DEHP- free medical devices immediately,” said Anna Gilmore Hall, RN, executive director of Health Care Without Harm, a coalition of 435 health and environmental groups in 53 countries.

The peer-reviewed study, published today in Environmental Health Perspectives, also contained some good news. The study compared infants in two Boston-area NICUs and found significantly lower phthalate levels in the babies who received care at the hospital that had switched to DEHP-free medical devices for some applications.

“When health care providers switch to safer non-vinyl medical devices, they are protecting their littlest patients from unnecessary toxic exposures,” Gilmore Hall said.

“This new evidence of toxic chemical exposure to the most vulnerable sick infants is alarming, and adds urgency to the need to pass the Safer Alternatives bill that is currently before the state legislature,” said Bill Ravenesi, Boston campaign director of Health Care Without Harm and member of Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow, the coalition sponsoring the bill that is coming to public hearing this month before the Mass. Joint Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

The Safer Alternative Bill (H.1286 – S.553) would mandate a careful process to evaluate alternatives to DEHP and nine other toxic chemicals in common household products and replace them with safer alternatives where feasible. For more information about the bill, contact Cindy Luppi at Clean Water Action, 617/338-8131


Easily post a comment below using your Linkedin, Twitter, Google or Facebook account. Comments won't automatically be posted to your social media accounts unless you select to share.