Newborns who receive intensive therapy with medical devices containing polyvinyl chloride (PVC) may be exposed to high levels of a toxic phthalate called di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, or DEHP. Used to soften catheters, intravenous bags, and other medical equipment, DEHP has been shown to alter the development of the male reproductive system in lab animals.
In a recent study involving 54 neonates being treated in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), the average exposure to DEHP was 25 times higher among these patients than in the general population. Patients receiving the most intensive treatment had the highest exposures-up to 50 times higher than the general population.
Although the Food and Drug Administration has asked care providers to protect patients from DEHP and alternatives are available at similar cost, many hospitals still use devices containing the toxin.
The researchers also compared DEHP levels in babies at two NICUs in the Boston, Mass., area, one of which had switched to DEHP-free devices for some applications. They found that babies who'd received treatment at this NICU had significantly lower phthalate levels than babies treated in the NICU that still used PVC devices.