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Phthalates found in infants treated in NICUs that use devices containing phthalates

Boston, MA - Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), two Harvard-affiliated hospitals, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that infants in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) whose care entailed the use of medical devices containing di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) had high levels of this compound in their bodies. In addition, in one of the first reports of its kind, the investigators found among the infants a direct relationship between these levels and the intensity at which DEHP-containing medical devices were used in their treatment. The findings appear in the on-line issue of Environmental Health Perspectives. (Full article)

DEHP is used to soften and plasticize the rigid polymer polyvinyl chloride (PVC). In PVC plastic, DEHP readily migrates out of the plastic into blood and fat-containing solutions in contact with the plastic, a phenomenon observed with blood stored in PVC bags. The DEHP may also migrate out of the plastic into the body from catheters and tubing used in medical treatments. The body metabolizes DEHP into mono-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (MEHP) which can be measured in urine and used as an indicator of the level of exposure to DEHP. In laboratory animals, MEHP has been shown to disrupt reproductive tract development and function following in-utero or early lifetime exposure.

DEHP is found in a variety of medical products and devices used in NICUs, including examination gloves, bags containing blood, plasma, intravenous (IV) fluids and tubing and other products associated with the delivery of fluids, nutrients, and air to NICU infants. The researchers assessed the use of DEHP-containing products in the care of 54 infants admitted to one of two NICUs, and examined the intensity of use of these products in relation to levels of MEHP in the infants' urine.

On average, the levels of MEHP in the infants' urine were manyfold higher than those observed in other studies of U.S.
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Contact: Kevin C. Myron
kmyron@hsph.harvard.edu
617-432-3952
Harvard School of Public Health
8-Jun-2005


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