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FEBRUARY 22, 1999   10:31 AM
CONTACT: Greenpeace USA
Deborah Rephan, Media Team, 202-319-2492
Mainlining Danger: Hospital Patients Exposed to High Levels of Toxic Chemicals in Vinyl I.V. Bags
WASHINGTON - February 22 - As the vinyl industry steps up its nationwide ad campaign claiming that "People who save lives for a living depend on vinyl," Greenpeace today released data showing that vinyl (PVC) medical devices contain high levels of toxic additives which can leach out through surrounding fluids, exposing hospital patients to a probable human carcinogen.

Using an independent laboratory, Greenpeace tested eleven IV bags, syringes, tubing and catheters from top manufacturers such as Baxter and Abbott, and found levels of the toxic softening agent DEHP ranging from 29 percent to 81 percent. Only one sample, a non-vinyl IV bag by McGaw contained no detectable levels of DEHP.

More than 80 percent of all IV bags are made of vinyl, requiring chemical additives known as phthalates to make them soft and flexible. Because they do not bond with plastic, phthalates are easily released into surrounding fluids. In the case of IV bags, the phthalate used is DEHP, which has been virtually eliminated from infant mouthing toys since 1986 due to its carcinogenicity, reproductive toxicity, and its ability to leach into children's mouths. In recent months, many toy manufacturers have pledged to remove all phthalates from vinyl children's and babies' items because of the leaching problem.

Pharmaceutical literature recommends against the use of vinyl containers for cancer and AIDS drugs (Taxol and Taxotere), noting that these drugs exaggerate the leaching effect of DEHP into vinyl IV bags. Even vinyl IV bags containing saline and dextrose solutions contain warnings that "solutions in contact with the plastic container can leach out [DEHP]…up to 5 parts per million," 800 times higher than the amount of DEHP permitted in drinking water under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

"It doesn't take a doctor to know that PVC medical bags and other devices violate the Hippocratic oath to 'first do no harm,'" said Greenpeace toxics expert Dr. Joseph Di Gangi. "Fortunately, the prescription is simple: hospitals must switch to non-vinyl medical products that are already available on the market."

Di Gangi noted that the McGaw IV bag that does not contain DEHP is made of polyolefin. Baxter, the largest US maker of vinyl IV bags also makes a non-vinyl version that is marketing far more aggressively in Europe, where vinyl is more rigorously regulated and alternatives are in greater demand.

As a result of the phthalates scandal in vinyl toys, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has begun a study of the threat posed by DEHP in medical devices. Along with 170 other medical, health care, consumer, and environmental groups that comprise the Health Care Without Harm coalition, Greenpeace has called on Vice President Al Gore and the FDA to publish an inventory of PVC medical devices, issue warnings to medical professionals and patients, and begin a phase-out of PVC in medical products.




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