Anti-vinyl Coalition Seeks Ban on Intravenous Medical Supplies

Published August 1, 1999

If it’s bad for laboratory rats, then it must be bad for humans, the old song goes.

The latest environmental group singing that tune is Healthcare Without Harm (HCWH), a Washington, DC coalition of 140 environmental, health, and activist groups that recently launched a campaign to eliminate the use of vinyl medical products such as intravenous bags (IV) and tubing.

According to the group’s Endocrine/Estrogen Letter, the coalition believes that the plasticizer di-2-ethylhexyl-phthalate (DEHP) may leach from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) products to cause cancer and other health problems for patients. According to HCWH, rats exposed to DEHP have developed reproductive problems.

The new crusade closely follows efforts by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s decision late last year to request that toy manufacturers voluntarily phase out the use of DEHP in some toys, an action that had vigorous support from HCWH and Vice President Al Gore. Greenpeace also has joined the fray.

The Endocrine/Estrogen Letter notes that Baxter Healthcare, a major supplier of PVC equipment, defends the use of PVC . . . but also sells IV bags in Europe that do not contain phthalates. Baxter Healthcare is seeking U.S. approval to sell phthalate-free IV bags in this country.

“DEHP has demonstrated effects on testes and sperm production in laboratory animals, and from what we know, hormone systems in rodents are not much different from humans,” said Jackie Hunt Christensen, an HCWH coordinator.

The group also claims that the incineration of vinyl medical waste produces dioxin levels that could cause endocrine disruption, according to Executive Newsline, a publication of the Arlington, Virginia-based Chlorine Chemistry Council.

According to Dr. Carol A. Talacki, a senior medical advisor to the chlor-vinyl industry, hundreds of studies and reviews by independent government agencies have failed to provide scientific evidence of risk to humans.

“While these groups would have you believe otherwise,” said Talacki, “the fact is that vinyl medical products have been periodically evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and many studies of DEHP have been done over the past 20 years. Known science and tangible benefits, when contrasted against the alleged risks, do not support the elimination of these live-saving products.”

Because there is consumer concern, David Feigal of the FDA’s Center for Biologies said his agency will conduct further studies of the products in order to “make sure that we weren’t moving from a product with good characteristics to one that we don’t know very much about.” A new FDA study on the health effects of medical products is expected later this year.