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Published December 1, 2007 12:45 PM

Hospitals move to phase out chemical

Newborns in hospital intensive care units are vulnerable in so many ways.

Their paper-thin skin can be torn by medical tape. Their lungs may not be developed enough to supply their tiny bodies with oxygen. Their immature immune systems leave them susceptible to a wide world of germs.



Now, a growing number of hospitals are trying to protect babies like these from a newly recognized threat — the medical equipment that provides them with lifesaving blood, medicine or nutrition.

The plastic used in intravenous tubing, blood bags and other products — DEHP, or di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate — can leach a hormone-like chemical linked to reproductive problems, says Richard Grady, interim chief of pediatric urology at Seattle's Children's Hospital & Regional Medical Center. While doctors agree that the benefits of specialized care for newborns outweigh the potential risks from plastic devices, leading medical organizations now say that hospitals should find safer substitutes whenever possible. Grady notes that even minute amounts of hormones could cause problems for infants whose organs are still developing, especially newborn boys who spends weeks in neonatal intensive care units, or NICUs.

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