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Chemical used in Hospital Plastic Tubing and Feeding Bags Linked to Increased Risk of Liver Problems in Premature Babies

A new study published today in the journal Pediatrics, links a chemical used in many plastic products to an increased risk of liver problems in premature babies. The study was conducted at a hospital in Germany. The study suggests that a chemical known as phthalate, which is used in some plastic intravenous feeding bags and tubing, may raise the chance of liver damage in babies that are born prematurely.

Premature babies have livers that are immature so they are already at risk for liver complications. Further, many times they are fed intravenously, a practice which is also known to increase liver problems. The study suggests that one possible reason for the increased liver problems with intravenous feeding is the chemical phthalate which is used in the tubing.

The study tracked 30 premature infants that were treated in the intensive care unit before the hospital switched to feeding equipment without the chemical, and 46 infants treated there afterward. Serious liver problems developed in 50% of infants fed with tubes containing phthalate versus only 13% of the other infants.

Some experts say the study is unconvincing, but others, such as Deborah Cory-Slechta, an environmental medicine professor at the University of Rochester medical school said, “This is a pretty strong damnation of” phthalates. “It needs to be replicated. But I still think this makes a very strong case for getting rid of these compounds” in infant intensive care units.

In a 2002 phthalates advisory, the FDA recommended alternatives for patients most at risk from the chemical leeching out of plastic medical equipment, including sick infant boys because of possible damage to developing reproductive organs. Some hospitals in the United States have already switched their feeding bags and tubing to items that do not contain phthalates. Further, some countries and California have restricted the use of phthalates. Phthalates can also be found in many other items besides medical supplies, such as toys, vinyl flooring and cosmetics. Phthalates are different from bisphenol-A, or BPA, a plastic-hardening chemical that also has raised health concerns and is found in food containers and other products. It’s no longer used in many baby bottles.

For more information, see the article from MSNBC at:

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