A new study reports that chemicals banned from many plastic products are still used in IV tubing and catheters and the chemical has been linked to attention deficit disorder in children who received IV treatment for serious illnesses.
The tubing and catheters contain phthalates, plastic-softening chemicals that have been banned from toys, teething rings, soft books and other children’s products because of possible toxic effects, the Washington Post reports. Phthalates are known to disrupt hormones and have been linked to health problems including asthma and autism.
Dr. Sören Verstraete, from Leuven, Belgium, the lead researcher on the study, said at the recent Endocrine Society meeting in Boston, “We found a clear match between previously hospitalized children’s long-term neurocognitive test results and their individual exposure to the phthalate DEHP during intensive care.”
Dr. Verstraete and his colleagues tested 449 children, who ranged in age from newborn to 16, who were treated in pediatric intensive care units and whose care involved between one and 12 medical tubes. The researchers found high levels of phthalates, even among children admitted with only catheters in place. Until the young patients were discharged from the ICU, their phthalate levels remained 18 times higher than in a control group of healthy children, the Post reports.
Four years after the hospitalizations, the researchers gave the children neurological and cognitive tests. After adjusting for other risk factors for attention deficit disorder, the scientists found a strong association between high exposure to phthalates and development of ADD. The researchers repeated the work with an additional group of more than 200 pediatric ICU patients, and the findings were similar. The researchers concluded that medical tubing and catheters with phthalates were “potentially harmful” to children’s brain development and function.
“The phthalate exposure explained half of the attention deficit in former [pediatric ICU] patients,” Dr. Verstraete told the endocrinology conference in early April 2016. New plastic softeners for medical tubing are urgently needed, he said, according to the Post.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says phthalates are used in hundreds of products including vinyl flooring, adhesives, detergents, lubricating oils, automotive plastics, and in personal-care products like soaps, shampoos, hair sprays, and nail polishes. Phthalates are also widely used widely in the polyvinyl chloride plastics used in garden hoses, inflatable toys, blood-storage containers, medical tubing, and toys. The CDC calls for research to assess the full effects of phthalate exposure on human health.
Congress voted to ban phthalates from children’s products in 2008 and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) imposed a permanent ban on three particularly dangerous phthalates in products for children younger than 12. But DEHP, one of those banned phthalates, is still used in medical tubing, meaning that children can be exposed to DEHP during medical procedures. As far back as 2002, the Food and Drug Administration recommended reducing exposure to phthalates in medical devices, the Post reports.