​Dangerous Chemical Hiding in NICUs Is Putting Babies at Risk

When babies are born prematurely or require extra care in a hospital's NICU before we can take them home, most of us probably assume -- and hope and pray -- they are in the safest environment possible. But a new study has revealed that preemies are being exposed to a plastic chemical so dangerous, it has been banned from toys and baby products. Yet, for some reason, an extremely high amount of the chemical DEHP is still being allowed to be used in medical equipment, including flexible plastic tubing used in feeding tubes, breathing tubes, catheters, IVs, and blood storage bags for preterm babies. And experts say the exposure to DEHP could have a disastrous effect on a baby's health.

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Experts say the same phthalate plasticizers that are responsible for making plastics durable can also disrupt hormones in babies and cause liver damage. The big problem with DEHP is that it can reportedly leak out of a plastic tube because it doesn't chemically bind to it.

If that sounds totally frightening, it is: the study published in Nature's Journal of Perinatology reveals that the "daily intake of DEHP for critically ill preterm infants is on the order of 4,000 and 160,000 times higher than desired to avoid reproductive and hepatic [liver-related] toxicities, respectively."

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Lab animals that have been exposed to high amounts of DEHP were reportedly more likely to experience liver and gall bladder damage. Other studies found the chemical caused eye and lung damage as well.

There are more than a few problems here. First of all, we know many sick preemies spend months in NICU, which means they are also being exposed to this dangerous chemical for months. While we may be thinking to ourselves, This is a no-brainer, stop using DEHP in medical equipment, apparently it's not that easy. Some hospital chains have started limiting or banning DEHP in equipment, but alternatives for the chemical don't exist yet for all the equipment nurses and doctors need.

It's scary to think of this chemical being used around a hospital's most vulnerable patients, but the positive thing here is that this has been exposed. The next step is for all hospitals to replace this equipment and for experts to come up with a safer alternative.

Did you know hospitals used DEHP in the NICU?

 

Image via [l h.e.a.t.h.e.r l]/Flickr

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