Some medical products, such as IV bags and tubing, can contain up to 40% DEHP by weight. (Josh/Flickr)
PVC and DEHP elimination in medical products
Medical products can contain chemicals of concern that may threaten patients and the environment. For many years, Health Care Without Harm has prioritized the elimination of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) in medical devices because of their toxicity and to increase the safety and sustainability of the health care sector.
PVC requires highly toxic inputs during manufacture, and, in some cases, toxic additives to achieve key performance characteristics. It also can result in the formation of a variety of highly toxic chemicals during disposal by incineration. PVC can be challenging to recycle because of the material’s many additives, and other reasons.
DEHP is the phthalate most commonly used in medical products. Some medical products, such as IV bags and tubing, can contain up to 40% DEHP by weight. DEHP is a reproductive and developmental toxicant that can leach out of medical products, threatening some patients exposed to the chemical. The Food and Drug Administration issued a Public Health Notification in 2002, advising health care professionals to switch to devices made of alternative materials, or made of PVC that does not contain DEHP when treating patients who may be particularly vulnerable, including male neonates, pregnant women who are carrying male fetuses, and peripubertal males.
The Safer Chemicals program has catalyzed national efforts to eliminate PVC and the plasticizer DEHP from medical products and to drive the adoption of safer alternatives in health care. As part of the Safer Chemicals challenge, 168 hospitals across the country reported purchasing at least one DEHP- and PVC-free product line in 2017.
Health Care Without Harm identified priority products in which PVC and DEHP are commonly used and, in some cases, are potential sources of exposure to patients and/or employees and has compiled lists of products that do not contain PVC and DEHP.
Many leading health systems are members of Practice Greenhealth, our membership organization. Practice Greenhealth provides tools, resources, and a community of practice to implement sustainable practices in health care. The PVC and DEHP elimination goal helps member hospitals facilitate the purchasing of products that meet our criteria and achieve safer materials benchmarks. The medical product lists make it easier for hospitals to select medical products that meet that goal.