Phthalates are used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastic and vinyl and are a chemical used in hundreds of consumer products. Phthalates had been used to make soft rattles, teething rings, and pacifiers, but U.S. manufacturers have not used this chemical in those products since 1999 at the request of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Hospitals, however, still use plastic IV tubes and catheters that contain phthalates, and a new study has been linked the use of these devices in children to attention deficit disorder (ADD). It has been revealed that the chemicals disrupt hormones and have been implicated in conditions ranging from asthma to autism, reports the Washington Post.
“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,” said lead researcher Soren Verstraete, from Leuven, Belgium to the Endocrine Society.
Researchers, along with Verstraete, tested 449 children ranging from infants to 16 year-olds who were treated in pediatric intensive care units (ICU) and were found to have high levels of phthalates. Those levels remained 18 times higher until the young patients’ discharge from the ICU compared to those levels in a control group of healthy children.
A strong association between high exposure to phthalates and development of ADD was revealed four years later when the once-critically ill children underwent neurocognitive tests. When an additional group of over 200 pediatric ICU patients underwent a subsequent test, the outcome was similar.
“Development of alternative plastic softeners for use in in-dwelling medical devices may be urgently indicated, Verstraete said at a recent endocrinologists’ conference. The study was conclusive that “the medical tubing and catheters were ‘potentially harmful’ to children’s brain development and function,” reported the Washington Post.