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Environ Health Perspect. 2005 Sep;113(9):1222-5.

Use of di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate-containing medical products and urinary levels of mono(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate in neonatal intensive care unit infants.

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Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02215, USA.



Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) is a plasticizer used in medical products made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic and may be toxic to humans. DEHP is lipophilic and binds noncovalently to PVC, allowing it to leach from these products. Medical devices containing DEHP are used extensively in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). Among neonates in NICUs, we studied exposure to DEHP-containing medical devices in relation to urinary levels of mono(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (MEHP), a metabolite of DEHP.


We used a cross-sectional design for this study.


We studied 54 neonates admitted to either of two level III hospital NICUs for at least 3 days between 1 March and 30 April 2003.


A priori, we classified the infants' exposures to DEHP based on medical products used: The low-DEHP exposure group included infants receiving primarily bottle and/or gavage feedings; the medium exposure group included infants receiving enteral feedings, intravenous hyperalimentation, and/or nasal continuous positive airway pressure; and the high exposure group included infants receiving umbilical vessel catheterization, endotracheal intubation, intravenous hyperalimentation, and indwelling gavage tube. We measured MEHP in the infants' urine using automated solid-phase extraction/isotope dilution/high-performance liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry.


Urinary MEHP levels increased monotonically with DEHP exposure. For the low-, medium-, and high-DEHP exposure groups, median (interquartile range) MEHP levels were 4 (18), 28 (58), and 86 ng/mL (150), respectively (p = 0.004). After adjustment for institution and sex, urinary MEHP levels among infants in the high exposure group were 5.1 times those among infants in the low exposure group (p = 0.03).


Intensive use of DEHP-containing medical devices in NICU infants results in higher exposure to DEHP as reflected by elevated urinary levels of MEHP.

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