Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), commonly used to make medical products, may release a plasticizer — di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) — which could affect patients’ health, environmental protection groups said, urging the government to set policies to reduce the use of PVC in medical products.
According to the director of Citizen of the Earth Taiwan’s Taipei chapter, Millie Lee (李怡蒨), although the Department of Health (DOH) set tolerable daily limits for five kinds of plasticizers in July last year, the standards are not being enforced in the production of medical products.
Now many patients — especially premature infants, people undergoing dialysis or cancer treatment, are frequently exposed to PVC through medical products that may release DEHP, she said, adding that premature infants often need to be fed through medical tubes, but PVC tubes could result in the intake of excessive levels of toxic DEHP.
“Plasticizers can leach from PVC and the blood can carry the substances directly to the patient’s organs,” said Chiang Shou-shan (江守山), a nephrologist at Shin-Kong Wu Ho-Su Memorial Hospital.
When using medical products containing PVC, especially those with lipid substances such as insulin, medicine may leach plasticizers or be absorbed by PVC material, leading to a reduction in healing efficiency, he added.
He said that although further evidence is needed to prove the direct causal relation, research showed that the intake of plasticizers causes kidney blisters in lab rats and that he suspects the increasing number of cases of patients on dialysis with blisters in their kidneys may be related to the use of PVC medical products.
Herlin Hsieh (謝和霖) of Taiwan Watch Institute said the use of PVC medical products not only affects patients’ health, but also the general public’s health, citing Environmental Protection Administration statistics which suggest that dioxin emission levels from the incineration of medical products was about 56 times the level of burning general household waste.
According to Homemakers’ Union Consumers Cooperative president Huang Shu-teh (黃淑德), the labels on PVC intravenous drip bags, tubes or containers are often unclear, and patients can hardly tell that they are being exposed to toxic plasticizers.
Medical regulations stipulate that medical institutes are not allowed to let patients choose their own medicine or medical items which are covered by the National Health Insurance scheme, so it means it would not be possible for patients to choose safer products without plasticizers even if they wanted to pay more, she said.
The groups urged the DOH to establish safety standards for plastic medical products, promote the use of safer materials that would not release plasticizers and also to amend the regulations to allow patients to choose safer products.
In response, the DOH’s Food and Drug Administration said it promulgated a notice on the usage and labeling of PVC with certain medical products in May last year, adding that it intends to continue to check on the labeling of such products and to pay attention to the management of such products in other countries and develop substitution products.