Hospitals are exposing patients, including babies and
young children, to high levels of potentially dangerous
chemicals, a report suggests.
The babies are kept in a plastic environment with
plastic fumes all around. Plastic tags are tightly
placed on them and multiple plastic patches are attached
to their skin.
A study by researchers in the UK and US has found
that medical equipment, like tubes and blood bags, may
contain high levels of phthalates - a chemical that has
been linked to cancer and infertility.
In a report, published simultaneously in London and
Washington DC, they warned that when used in combination
these pieces of equipment could be delivering harmful
doses of the chemical to patients.
From what we already know about phthalates,
we should absolutely minimise the exposure
Dr Vyvyan Howard, University of Liverpool
Health Care Without Harm, the international lobby group
behind the report, urged officials in the US and Europe
to address the issue.
In 1999, the UK government banned chewable plastic
baby toys, such as teething rings, because they contain
Previous studies have shown that high levels of the
chemical, which is used to make PVC flexible, can damage
the liver, kidneys and testicles.
There are safety limits on the use of phthalates in
PVC in place in many countries.
However, Health Care Without Harm said these limits
were "a nonsense" because they are calculated on each
They warned that combined use of tubes, IV bags and
blood bags to treat patients could be putting them at
They added that the risk could be particularly high
Dr Vyvyan Howard, of the University of Liverpool,
said: "From what we already know about phthalates, we
should absolutely minimise the exposure of infants."
However, the chemical is also found in many everyday
products such as paints, glues, cosmetics and other
consumer items made from PVC.
Recent studies in the EU, Canada and US have
concluded that children may already be exposed to high
levels of phthalates.
This is because the chemical can be passed through
breast milk and can be found in child care products,
toys and infant formulae.
The chemical is released into the environment through
the manufacturing process.
It can also be found indoors because it is emitted
from some products made with PVC.
The lobby group accused government in Europe and
North America of ignoring the problem.
Per Rosander, spokesperson for Health Care Without
Harm, said: "The public are subjected to phthalates from
a wide range of everyday sources.
"While regulators continue to ignore that fact, their
so-called acceptable levels offer us no protection at
The Medical Devices Agency said it was aware of
concerns. However, a spokeswoman said that at present
there was no alternative products available.
She said: " Where products are used for medical
purposes, it is essential that a balance is struck
between their risks and benefits.
"There have been several recent expert assessments of
the risks," she said.
"The medical device regulations require that any
risks must be minimised and eliminated wherever
"However, at present, it is not always possible to
provide alternative materials that provide the same
level of clinical benefit."
But she added: "Each manufacturer is responsible for
ensuring that the clinical benefits offered by a product
outweigh any risk of toxicity.
"The Medical Devices Agency is keeping the issue
under constant review."